India is the middle of implementing its Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train Project which is the first bullet train project for India. It has been delayed due to land-acquisition problems and may miss the projected deadline for completion in 2023. Many farmers and others are not keen to part with their land for a project which does not appear to be in the larger national interest as well very heavily.
As much as Rs. 1.1 lakh crore are being spent for this project of providing higher speed train for a stretch which is already well covered by train, road and air transport. Adequate and comfortable train transport is available, but if someone is in great hurry, he can always take the air route. At a time of a severe resource crunch why go in for such a non-essential project and incur a massive loan from Japan for this meeting this expenditure? Is this government fond of getting the country trapped in debt?
But this is not the only project of its kind. According to reports in leading newspapers, seven other bullet-corridor projects are being planned on public-private partnership mode. What is common to all these projects is that they are on already well-connected routes, and quite a few of them involve connections for cities which are believed to have significance for political reasons.
What will be the total cost of all these ventures combined together , what kind of indebtedness and commitments these will these will involve and to extent these will push us away from real priorities of the transport sector?
Let us not forget that many parts of the country are still very badly served by trains and many parts are in fact not served at all. The facilities and frequency for many common passengers have been not only poor but in fact have declined further in recent times. In fact many villages are not connected even with roads, or the roads are in very sad state of repair, or in case the villages remain cut off during the rainy season and seriously ill patients , or expectant mothers , are carried on cots for many miles.
In fact overemphasis on speed alone to the neglect of other important aspects is proving to be a bane rather than a blessing of our entire transport sector and not just of railways. Up to a reasonable limit, of course, trying to improve speed is widely accepted to be a desirable objective, but only up to a limit. Beyond a limit, when it starts demanding exceptionally high resources and gets in conflict with much more important safety objectives, then the pursuit of higher speed should surely be given up.
Looking outside the window has always been a great joy of train travel, even more for children than for adults. This joy is maximized at a reasonable speed, and is disturbed if the speed is too high.
Then there are special trains like the Kalka- Shimla toy train whose beautiful scenes are best enjoyed at even slower speed. But the other day I heard that high-profile persons are involved in ruining this joy by preparing plans to increase the speed of even this train.
High speeds often conflict with safety. Cows and stray wild animals are not used to super-speed trains and are often caught in the furious pace of their journey.
In the case of road transport and particularly highway transport increasing speed beyond a reasonable limit is even more of a safety risk. Some of the highest costing highways like the new Delhi-Agra highway have recorded several serious accidents at least partly due to the high speed levels facilitated by them.
It will be better to serve real priorities of safe travel and better facilities for common commuters instead of indulging in very costly fancy projects of false prestige.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.