Argument 1: Why waste $17 billion on a project in a poverty stridden nation?
Answer: India is not paying the entire cost of this project on its own. Almost 80% of the cost will be met with a soft, friendly loan from Japan at the rate of 0.1% per annum, whose repayment will start when the project cost will be recovered. Also, when China started building its HSR, in the 1990s, it also had a significant poverty rate. This project would actually help to alleviate poverty by generating jobs.
Argument 2: Instead of building a new bullet train project, why not improve the existing rail services?
Answer: The point is valid but again, the funding for this project is being done by Japan who won’t give that loan for improving our existing rail infrastructure. The best way to do that, according to me is semi-privatising the Indian railways.
Argument 3: Developed economies like USA don’t have high-speed rail. Why should we invest our time and money in this?
Answer: USA has a substandard railway infrastructure as compared to their economic standards, which is one of the most pathetic in the developed world. Very few lines in USA are electrified. Additionally, the railway only serves a few major cities and no passenger train serves interior states like Wyoming. The domestic transport in USA hence is mostly through the air as the country has excellent airports all over.
Argument 4: The bullet trains will be imported from Japan, so what about ‘Make in India’?
Answer: This is correct. However, only the initial rolling stock will be imported from Japan. Later, the trains will be manufactured in India using transfer of technology from Japan.
Argument 5: Why run a bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad? Why not between major cities?
Answer: The Mumbai – Ahmedabad line is the initial stage and not the only one to be built. There is a plan for a second line between Delhi and Amritsar via Chandigarh. The Mumbai – Ahmedabad line is also expected to be extended till Pune. Finally, when Ahmedabad and Delhi are also linked, we could probably see a full 2000 km high speed railway line between Pune and Amritsar. Today, I also read I TOI about Maharashtra government’s ambitious plan to link Mumbai and Nagpur too!
Argument 6: A bullet train would take 2 hours whereas a plane takes 1 to 1:30 hours. So, isn’t a plane faster?
Answer: Yes, it is. However, we are considering only the inflight time. The time taken to reach the airport, checking in, security check, waiting near the boarding gates and time taken for taxiing takes the total time to almost 4 hours. However, adding the time taken to reach the railway station, waiting, etc. wouldn’t cost more than 3 hours for a bullet train.
Argument 7: The project won’t be profitable.
Answer: There were similar criticisms on the metro projects until people realised their worth. Also, a majority of the travellers would be rich businessmen who wouldn’t have many problems with the fare system. The trains will also halt at intermediate stations, some of them being huge cities like Surat and Vadodara, to make it more profitable.
Argument 8: We already have an unsafe railway system. What if there are accidents with the bullet train?
Answer: Shubh shubh boliye! There is a track of zero accidents on bullet trains in Japan and since the same technology is used in India, there won’t be any technical fault provided the trains and tracks are well maintained and drivers drive sensibly.
Argument 9: Mumbai and Gujarat are prone to severe flooding in the monsoon. Won’t this affect the trains?
Answer: The track is fully elevated and hence just as the metro, water logging won’t affect its services.
There are several advantages to this project, some of which, according to me are: –
- Use of renewable energy (electricity) for high-speed transport, at a speed comparable to air travel. Recollect that aeroplanes run on expensive petrol.
- Decreasing the load on the conventional railway line which could be used more for transportation of goods in a future manufacturing economy.
- Japanese technology would be subsequently used to manufacture high-speed trains in India.
- Currently, only 3-4 nations (Japan, China, France and Belgium) have trains running at more than 320 km/h. India would soon join this ivy league.
New technologies are inevitable. Haters will always criticise it. Some people had also questioned the usage of computers, mobile phones, internet, IoT, self-driving cars, etc. citing irrational reasons of losing jobs, robots taking over the world and several fake predictions of their own. It is best to accept new technologies and move on. After all, technologies change humans, they create our future!