The White Elephant Called High Speed Rail Corridor

Spain is bankrupt.

Of course chief role has been played by Socialism it espoused as its economic philosophy. But pace was recently double-quickened after it constructed a High Speed Rail Corridor.

 

Capital is the most scarce resource for any society. What becomes of a society, just as what becomes of a family, depends upon what it does with its Capital. The Capital may be put to use in a way that it leads to increased productivity for everybody, or it may be so deployed that it gets locked in a loss making venture, sucking more Capital towards itself, and destroying this incoming Capital as well.

 

Transportation is of course the basic need of any society. Governments develop mass transportation system with general revenue, with the hope that even if it is loss making by itself, it increases productivity, thus increasing the tax revenue for the government, which is then used to operate the transportation system. This of course is true for urban transit, where the carrying capacity is almost always short of requirement, signifying that the cost sunk is being fully used, and people have been afforded mobility.

 

When it comes to long distance, story changes altogether. People prefer to use car, because that is most time -effective. Beyond a certain distance, they switch to planes, again because that is time -effective. Because the travellers are not daily commuters. They are business travellers going for a specific task at a specific place.

High speed long distance train offers no advantage to the business travellers, who can afford its high tariff. So it either runs empty, or it needs high operating subsidy to attract ordinary travellers.

Almost everywhere it has been constructed, it has been making losses.

 

So why do we need a high speed corridor between Ahmedabad and Mumbai?

Nobody can commute daily for a job over such a large distance. So it will not serve commuters. Those travelling for business have plenty of flights, and plenty of cheap overnight trains. Why would they switch to it? Suppose they all switch to it, what will be the ridership? Will all flights and AC classes in overnight trains run empty? Even if they all switch, agains what will be the ridership? Will it ever break even?

 

Of course vested interests can create future ridership out of thin air. But experience shows that people on this corridor mostly travel between intermediate cities- Ahmedabad to Nadiad, Nadiad to Anand, Anand to Vadodara….and so on. Present stoppages of Ahmedabad Mumbai Shatabdi are most instructive. If high speed train will have such stoppages, it will no longer be high speed. And in any case, we have only one Shatabdi between these two cities. Will we construct a whole new corridor just to run one or two trains?

 

Also, the Pune-Mumbai story is  a valuable lesson. Before  Pune -Mumbai Expressway, it was most difficult to get a seat on trains between Pune and Mumbai. After the expressway came, many of the trains had to be discontinued, and almost all saw coaches reduced.

Ahmedabad Vadodara has expressway. Land is being acquired for Vadodara -Mumbai expressway.

 

We did not learn from the experience of other countries and ended up constructing a useless Airport line in Delhi. Airport lines in almost all cases run empty. It should have been clear that a person flying into a city would like to be driven home/meeting place, instead of trying metro network with all that luggage/shortage of time.

 

We must not end up creating a big size White Elephant, just because “others are doing so.” We must learn from the experience of those who have already been with the elephant for a decade or more. Our clientele is very cost sensitive, and the High Speed Corridor will not fill a gap in transport supply. It is not required. It should be scrapped. We must instead use this money to enhance the carrying capacity of our low cost trains, and of suburban networks in various cities. In fact with the money not spent on High Speed Corridor, we can have metro network in five more cities at least.