INDIAN RAILWAYS: A JOURNEY FROM STEAM LOCOMOTIVES TO BULLET TRAINS

INDIAN RAILWAYS: A JOURNEY FROM STEAM LOCOMOTIVES TO BULLET TRAINS

 

On 14th of September, the Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi and that of Japan, Mr. Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for India’s first high-speed rail project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Well, that’s not a new news. Although the first passenger train was run in India between Bori Bunder in Mumbai and Thane, the first goods train ran much earlier, in 1837, in Madras (today’s Chennai).After 180 years today, the most debated and controversial bullet train project’s work finally takes off. The project is labelled as controversial not by me, but several railway haters across the country; so let us answer their arguments one by one.

 

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: –

  1. Use of renewable energy (electricity) for high-speed transport, at a speed comparable to air travel. Recollect that aeroplanes run on expensive petrol.
  2. Decreasing the load on the conventional railway line which could be used more for transportation of goods in a future manufacturing economy.
  3. Japanese technology would be subsequently used to manufacture high-speed trains in India.
  4. 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!

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WHY CAN’T INDIAN CITIES HAVE MANY SKYSCRAPERS?

WHY CAN’T INDIAN CITIES HAVE MANY SKYSCRAPERS?

Skyscrapers today are a symbol of growth and pride for the city, aren’t they? Well, if that’s the case, then one may wonder that if the India can proudly boast of its 7% annual growth, why can’t we see the growth in the height of our buildings? Globally, growing economies are looked upon and shown with a mix of their culture and height of their buildings. Try this out – google image search for ‘India backgrounds’ and ‘South Korea’ backgrounds and see the difference. The fact is that even today, the Western world looks upon India as the place of Taj Mahal, Qutab Minar, the ghats of Varanasi or slums. Who knows – the westerners living in dark shadows of their fake media might still be thinking that Indians still live in only either of the two types of residences – palaces or village huts – just as our age-old kingdoms!Before explaining the fact that why Indian cities fall short of skyscrapers, let us try to define a skyscraper. According to Wikipedia [1][2], a skyscraper is a building which is at least 150 metres high. Buildings higher than 35 metres are termed as ‘high-rises’.Now, with the ever-booming real estate sector of major urban areas in the country and the prices soaring up without a rise in the inflation index, it indicates that the demand for real estate has certainly increased and is expected to increase more with GST and RERA in place; yet our focus is on horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. So, are there any reasons behind this?

dadar-east-99acres
Trends of per sq. ft. price at Dadar, a locality in Mumbai; observe that the prices had doubled in just 3 years! Pic was taken from 99acres.com

The primary reason why can’t builders in Indian cities like Mumbai and New Delhi cannot build towers as tall as they desire is because of restrictions on FSI (floor space index). It was introduced after the World War II in the United States. The governing council of the city (Municipal Corporation) in the case of Indian cities is responsible for limiting the value of FSI. The FSI is defined as the ratio of the total built-up area to the plot area. For example, if the plot area is 10000 sq. m., the builder can build an apartment with a built-up area of 10000 sq. m. if the FSI=1 and a built-up area of 20000 sq. m. if the FSI=2. In the case of Mumbai, the FSI for the city district is 1.33 and that of the suburban area (Bandra to Dahisar and Sion to Mulund) is 1. No wonder why most of the high rises are located in South Mumbai!

capture13
A comparison of FSIs of different cities

As it is clearly evident, Mumbai has one of the lowest FSIs in the world. So, should Mumbai increase its FSI? Probably no. Why so? There are several reasons for it.

Firstly, the density of population in Mumbai is ridiculously high at 32,400 people per sq. km. On the contrary, Hong Kong, with an FSI of 12 times that of Mumbai is still less! In fact, Mumbai ranks third on this list [3] trailing behind Manila and Pateros, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines. Hence, with an FSI of just 1 and 1.33, if Mumbai can be this dense, how dense would it be if there had been an unlimited FSI?

manila-05
A skyline of Metro Manila, the Philippines

Secondly, Indian government always aimed for cities to have a horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. This was because most of the Indian cities were in the interiors, surrounded by villages. Thus, a horizontal spread of the city would mean ease of accessibility to the central city areas from the adjacent rural areas, and thus a faster urbanization of the rural areas. However, for cities like Mumbai, this is not possible. Due to Mumbai’s geographical constraints (situated on an island and the mainland surrounded by forests and the Western Ghats), it limits the horizontal spread of Mumbai’s metropolitan area. Hence, there was no option but to develop the existing areas vertically and that’s the reason you find Mumbai on this list.

mumbai-satellite
Satellite view of Mumbai and its ‘satellite’ towns

The third and one of the most significant reasons is Indian climate. Imagine two plots of constant area. One of them has a 10 storey building whereas the other has a 50 storey building. What do you would be the difference between the heat dissipation between the two plots? The plot with the taller building will certainly dissipate more heat. As an example, consider the number of ACs operating in the two plots. As the number of ACs or basically all electrical gadgets is more in taller buildings on the same plot area, the heat dissipation per unit area would be higher if we allow a higher FSI. Also, due to increasing effects of global warming, it would be wise to encourage horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. Mumbai is low lying and there is a high risk of it being submerged because of increasing sea levels. Also, the climate of Mumbai is humid and temperatures soar up to 35°C in summers. So, do we want our actions to increase our mean temperature further? Aren’t we happy with the current humidity and heat? This is more disastrous for dry cities like Delhi, and that’s the reason that Delhi has spread this huge with minimal high rises. You won’t believe, but until the 1970s, the tallest structure in Delhi was the Qutab Minar!

urban_heat_island_celsius
The urban heat island profile map of London, UK

It has also been observed that there’s isn’t much a difference without putting a cap on the FSI. For instance, Hyderabad does not have any FSI limit; so technically you can build a structure any high over there. However, Hyderabad gets a rank of 80 in the list [2], because of its huge area and possibility of a spread.Well, so if you were the one who belonged to the category of people who compared the growth of the economy with the height of its buildings, do you now

Well, if you were the one who belonged to the category of people who compared the growth of the economy with the height of its buildings, do you now realize how wrong were you? My entire article was a compilation of articles by experts [4][5] and some of the answers on Quora [7][8][9] relevant to the topic. The very purpose behind writing this was because I too was inquisitive to know the same and I thought that it would be better to share my research with others, in case you are wondering the same! If you liked this blog, please do like, comment and follow!
All my references are as below:

  1. List of cities with most skyscrapers, Wikipedia
  2. List of cities with most high rise buildings, Wikipedia
  3. List of cities by population density, Wikipedia
  4. Article in The Hindu
  5. Article in The Indian Express
  6. Emporis skyline ranking
  7. Why doesn’t India have more skyscrapers? – Quora
  8. Why don’t Indian cities grow vertically? – Quora
  9. Why don’t Indian cities have high rise buildings like other newly industrialized countries? – Quora