The author takes a look at the issues involved in introducing the proposed High Speed Rail in the country.
The Railways first proposed high speed rail routes during the 2007-08 Railway budget. One route each was proposed in the Northern, Western, Southern and Eastern regions of the country. The trains were proposed to run at speeds close to 300-350kmph and covering a distance of up to 600km in 2-3 hours. For implementing the project, feasibility study of five HSR corridors was considered: Delhi – Chandigarh – Amritsar (450km), Ahmedabad – Mumbai – Pune (650km), Hyderabad – Vijayawada – Chennai (644km), Chennai – Bangalore – Coimbatore – Ernakulam (649km) and Howrah–Haldia (135km). In addition, the Railway Budget 2009-10 also proposed preparing feasibility report for the 991km long Delhi–Agra–Lucknow – Varanasi – Patna route.
Various studies have recommended HSR for intercity travel only if the distance is within 300-800km. For distances less than 300km, travel time reduction compared to road and conventional rail travel would not be substantial. A demonstration of HSR would most probably be conducted on either the 500km long Mumbai-Ahmedabad line or the 350km long Chennai—Bangalore stretch. A principal issue is whether the existing railway lines should be upgraded to make them suitable for semi-high speed trains running at speeds of 160-200kmph or should new high speed tracks, suitable for trains running at 250-350kmph be laid down. (The International Union of Railways (UIC) defined high speed lines as lines that are either specially built for speeds greater than or equal to 250kmph or specially upgraded for speeds of the order of 200kmph).
Dedicated High Speed Corridor-Merits
Building a new high speed line gives the option of building a direct straight line between cities, enabling a shorter running distance, thus reducing journey time without any interference from slow trains. Dedicated infrastructure for high-speed passenger lines frees up capacity on conventional lines, which can be used to accommodate additional freight and conventional passenger trains. In turn, this helps relieve congestion on the roads and drive down the related costs to society. HSR has an unblemished record in safety. Four billion passengers have been carried in Japan on HSR since 1964 without any fatal accident. Billions of passengers have travelled in Europe with practically no accident attributable to high speed trains. Traffic control systems and infrastructure of HSR are simpler to control, compared to aircrafts.
For high speed trains with new Right of Way (ROW), the existing rail network does not get disturbed. However, for upgraded right of way, few faster trains will get much precedence over the other trains, resulting in low throughput of permanent way. But the investment required for new ROW is much higher than that for upgraded ROW HSR. With new lines built for high-speed, that costs about `70-100 crore/km compared with `6-7 crore/km of normal rail track. Mumbai – Delhi route is the pilot test for upgraded HSR as existing freight trains will be shifted to Western Dedicated Freight Corridor for the project.
Issues in HSR
There are many issues to be considered before HSR becomes a reality in India
High speed trains cannot stop at each and every intermediate station and high speed rail lines cannot reach every station en-route. But the demand for including growing cities and political demand to include more stations en-route is always there. Therefore a service model consisting of a mix of non-stop trains and trains with fewer stops, as in Japan, may be worthy of consideration.
Choice of Technology Partner and Need for Standards
Given the state of research and development in India, it would be essential to go with another country as a technology partner. This would have to be a strategic decision, since it ties us down to a long term development approach. Further, standards, starting from the gauge width, the axle loading, the moving dimensions, the specifications of electric traction etc. need to be finalized, again with a strategic perspective.
Location of Stations
The HSR stations may be positioned either in the
• Existing railway stations;
• City centres which don’t have existing railway station;
• Periphery of cities which don’t have existing railway stations;
• Periphery of cities which have existing railway stations.
Wherever the stations are situated, seamless inter-modal connectivity is vital for good patronage of HSR. An example of this is the Taiwan High-Speed Rail which has intermediate stations lying outside the city. The system offers free shuttle buses, local trains and metro trains to meet the needs of different passengers.
Surface v/s Above Ground v/s Underground
Having a high speed rail on the surface means lower cost but also entails major problems to be overcome – land acquisitions and providing crossovers for roads and adequate protective fencing. Having ROW above the ground greatly minimizes the issues of land acquisition, road crossovers and fencing but it is quite expensive compared to the surface option. Aesthetics and dealing with existing structures could also be an issue. With an underground system, the problems of land acquisition, road crossover and fencing are completely avoided and aesthetics is not an issue. Existing structures could be an issue but they can be resolved. However it is the costliest of the three options.
From a civil engineering perspective there are many issues in achieving higher average speeds on existing networks: existence of sharper curves resulting in imposition of speed restriction; vulnerable locations like level crossings, cattle crossings turnouts, SEJ’s etc.; railway work sites with severe speed restrictions, existing permanent speed restriction on various track sections; maintenance requirements of infrastructure; track alignment compulsions and slower speeds at entry/exit points of yards and negotiation of turnouts.
For the train to achieve full potential of 160kmph of speed, the minimum radius of curve is 1325m (1.3º). There are large numbers of curves sharper than 1.3° on existing rail network in the country, which has resulted in imposition of permanent speed restrictions. One remedy to resolve this is to do a realignment of curves to restrict sharpness within permissible limits. This has the problem of bringing about a complete deviation from existing track and is financially not viable. The other option is tilting coaches’ technology, wherein, higher speeds can be achieved on curves with coaches designed to tilt according to the centrifugal force. The robustness of this technology in Indian conditions could be an issue.
Vulnerable Locations – Level Crossings, Cattle Crossings, Turnouts etc.
All existing level crossings have to be replaced by suitable grade separator i.e. by ROBs/RUBs on a programmed basis. For high-speed operation, track will also have to be completely fenced to avoid the menace of cattle, which could be a safety hazard. The existing vulnerable and high maintenance requiring components such as Turnouts, SEJs, Glued joint, Girder bridges have to be suitably upgraded. All the turnouts should be replaced with thick web switches and CMS crossings which can be welded. This would reduce the maintenance efforts substantially. Superior technology of track circuiting should be adopted to avoid need of glued joints at station yards and signal locations in mid section. Girder bridges, especially small spans i.e. up to 9.14m, also add to difficulties in maintenance and are better avoided for higher speeds.
Worksites with Severe Speed Restrictions
The worksites of TRR / TSR / Deep Screening / Turnouts replacement / Lifting / IMR rail replacement / bridge attention / scattered replacement of sleepers on the main line or turnouts / glued joint replacements etc need speed restrictions ranging from 20-45kmph. Time of about 12” per 200km is provided in timetabling for these planned works. All the trains have to accordingly absorb that much of extra time while they are running. For 160kmph operations, the resultant time would still be higher and may go up to 18“ per 200km, which would be totally unacceptable. The worksites would have to be managed with higher speeds by utilizing modern technology to improve replacement cycle time and also making available adequate time for maintenance to avoid unscheduled maintenance requirements. One way to avoid the need to negotiate the speed restriction stretch could be by providing high-speed turnouts and taking the important high speed trains on TSL (Twin Single Line). High-speed turnouts of 100kmph are available and can be utilized by augmenting the signalling systems. This would not only avoid restrictive speed restrictions but also allow maintenance work to be carried out in an uninterrupted manner.