29 Comments
Jun 7Liked by Kyle Chan

I heavily disagree.

But I'm going to start with where I agree. India should invest more in freight corridors to make its manufacturing sector more competitive. India currently taxes freight rail to subsidise passenger rail which is fucking stupid. If it hadn't done that India would have been able to build a lot more rail without handouts from the taxpayer.

India should also invest more in inter-city public transport. But many of the metro lines in India (including the ones in Delhi) aren't raising enough revenues. They should tap into other sources of revenues such as selling ads and renting out land around the stations. They should also invest more in feeder buses to increase ridership of metros and also create an integrated transport system. Even if the government subsidies the metro system it should do it using local property or land taxes instead of income taxes. Government expenditure in India is too centralised to begin.

I don't think a nation wide hsr network makes any sense. Some might. They should go through a process of calculating the economic rate of return. Otherwise they'll be a bunch of white elephant projects. I would like to remind people that the Japanese Shinkansen was a massive loss making system before it was privatised in the 80s.

I also don't think the emissions of the aviation sector is that big of a deal. The entire aviation sector is responsible for 2-3% of all emissions. From an emissions perspective metros and buses will give you a greater bang for your buck. By the time India will be done building HSR in 15 years, most short haul aviation will be electrified anyways. Long haul aviation won't be electrified within my lifetime though.

Before you get too enthusiastic about the future of HSR I would recommend reading about the first railway mania in Britain and USA. There is a bigger danger of this happening when public money is involved and you're making the case that they should be loss making.

India should look to what Europe is trying. The EU is starting to partially privatise its passenger railway system. I'm not too aware of the details. But given India's poor record of service delivery it should look towards getting more private sector participation.

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I disagree with you especially similar approach as Europe public railway networks should never be privatized. unlike government in short term, they are fast and more productive but as project gets old maintenance cost rise private entities increase prices of fares and with no further capacity to invest and upgrades existing lines and network start losing ridership.

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I'm generally against giving out huge subsidies. If maintenance costs go up, the riders should just pay for it. Against I would like to remind you that budget airplanes are cheaper than many railway routes in Europe. This brings into question where regional passenger rail routes are economically viable.

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That’s all fine but what happens with demographic changes what happens when different religious groups move around such as sikhs and Muslims. I compare this very much to modern America where there basic hsr are lacking very much behind for reasons unknown

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How the hell did you bring identity politics into railway economics?

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Very good article Kyle. Three fundamental problem in India.

1. Indian politicians see national transportation & utility systems more like a private business profit making enterprise. Indian politicians have conservative & austerity mindset about public investment. Indian politicians have very narrow vision about economic and industrial policy making.

In recent times, more focus is on private investment & profit motive of systems. Private enterprises are asked to undertake giant investments which are not directly very profitable (although in long term they are highly valuable). In India people have very low purchasing power that's why for-profit private business models have failed. Delhi Metro is centrally funded and operated pretty much on no-profit basis. That's why it's successful. And with govt as main driver of investment, the growth of Delhi metro is remarkable.

But when metro projects are implemented by private corporations, the investment is very shaky. For example, the Mumbai metro project has expanded at snail's pace & long delays and commutation costs for riders is also very high. This type of model hasn't been successful. In recent past, Delhi metro also tried these kind of PPP models by privatizing a section of Delhi metro (Airport line) which ended in disaster.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi/metro-chief-gives-the-thumbs-down-to-airport-metro-says-no-ppp-in-future/story-E5jphl8PZVoEqYkhjSgjIO.html

So problem is the mindset of politicians who do not wanna make investment in Indian economy and wish private sector substitute the role of public investment.

2. The funding part & lack of technical capability. Much of the earlier phases of Delhi metro & in fact many other infrastructure projects have been built with assistance of foreign firms and govts who have technical capacity. In fact, projects like Delhi metro was a good opportunity for Indian companies (that made joint ventures with foreign firms) to learn underground tunneling & construction of metro projects. Later, Indian firms became self sufficient in such construction skills.

For HSR construction, India i think is relying on Japanese technical assistance. Here the India has shrunk its opportunities. First, by austerity mindset and second by limiting foreign partnerships. India doesn't wanna invite Chinese firms for the project which i believe could be cheaper. The western firms for HSR construction are costly i believe.

3. There is a problem with India's eminent domain. Due to rural populist mindset of govt, they shell out heavily for acquiring land for projects. And if farmers think they're not getting adequate compensation, they go on agitations which politically destabilizes the govt. This is another sort of compulsion for govt.

To give you a small example. Metro project very near to my home was delayed for several years because political problems with land acquisition & legal hurdles.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/missing-link-bridged-delhi-metros-pink-line-becomes-networks-longest-corridor/articleshow/85094859.cms

India really needs is go-big strategy for 21st century. Directly fund HSR project, tie up multiple joint ventures with other foreign firms for technical needs. This will make Indian firms self sufficient by next decade to work on their own.

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Also I don't see how you portray India as a financial conservative government? India keeps hundreds of state owned enterprises around for decades (Air India until recently). This is not just a thing of the past. These companies are still around. The government still owns a condom company. Public school teachers in India are paid over 4 times than those in private schools with significantly worse education outcomes. In the 80s India had build two SOEs to manufacture semiconductors which eventually shut down. I can keep going. India is one of the most wasteful governments in Asia. Now you can this kind of government to throw even more money at your pet project? Seriously?

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yes it was Untill 2014 now New government even accused of selling nation as its selling every loss making public sector company.

Now 3 semiconductor plants are being developed.

Rail is getting kuch better IRCTC is working as a private firm.

and more

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I'm not impressed by privatisation effort so far. India privatised more aggressively in the late 90s and early 2000s.

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Jun 11·edited Jun 11

1992 was forced by IMF that wasn't exactly privatisation that was just opening economy so new companies came to India Indian government companies didn't become private.

so it wasn't privatisation almost all government companies were stil government even government actually forced private companies to give themselves to government like air india, government practically stole their business after independence.

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People overemphasis the importance of the IMF. The 1991 crisis was the straw that broke the camel's back. In the late 90s India started privatising airports and ports which is considered radical even in many western countries.

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Fiscal responsibility is not an "austerity" mindset. I'm sorry that taxpayer aren't willing to fund whatever random petpive you happen to have. Besides the railway system in India is already reliant on heavy subsidies from the government. Regional passenger railway has been subsidied by much more profitable freight railway.

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Fiscal responsibility you're talking about is 200 years obsolete anachronistic concept. Modern economy runs on industrial policy, dirigisme and functional finance.

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200 years of course. Must have been an American conspiracy to keep such a secret.

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Who says its a secret? It's practiced by imbecilic governments around the world and propagated by imbecilic commentators on internet.

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Case in point

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Jun 7Liked by Kyle Chan

There are numerous articles advocating for HSR in India but have not seen such a fresh perspective as this paper offering insights into how an indentically populated country solved it HSR linked issues and how their mistakes and bumps can offer valuable insights for India to accelerate its HSR plans. Further more, Maharashtra has already started towards planning for its own regional HSR cluster and you may see states vying for building HSR on their own. Also elevated rail>UG rail for cost but UG rail> Elevated rail for the ease.

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Mumbai should get on finishing their metro system before making more "ambitious" plans.

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India needs safe and fast transport. It is the backbone of industry and agriculture of any progressive country. Coming to the point, bullet trains or even space travel experiments are not beniftii ng just the rich. Even US and Russia, in late sixties ,were being strongly criticized as pro rich and waste of tax prayers' money. Looking today from the past, how the digital technology benefits has reached every nook and corner os the globe benefiting even an illiterate and poor person. If India were to become a developed country in the next few years, on par with US Germany,China,Japan..., let us build better infrastructure and sustained foreign investment inflows to enhance healthy growth of our industry, HealthCare and agriculture. One hundred years ago Sir.M. Visvesvaraya had said -Industrialise or Perish. It is showing signs of happening now, let us not sleep again until the goal is reached.

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Jun 10·edited Jun 10

I personally think not just we need HSR we should replace literally whole fleet(yes on ground :P) of trains in next 20 years.

we need to build around 1000 HSR say 250kmph vande bharat sleeper trains every year.

Yes hear me out HSR sleeper.

with 250kmph top speed given India's dense nature and rough geography avarage speed will hardly pass 150kmph imagine 150kmph from mumbai to kolkata but even if u wanna travel short distance like mumbai to Nagpur 150kmph will take over 5 hours so sleeper trains are must I never travelled in vande bharat and biggest reason was its seater train I literally cant imagine seating in same position for 6 hours.

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Brother nice article just in ur rail system structure there should be mumbai nagpur hawrah HSR route uts the busiest route in India and Idk how u missed that

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I appreciate the effort, but you're just wrong.

We need to focus on increasing and improving our existing train services.

Most of the demand for airlines is not necessarily for fast travel, it is for clean facilities and reliable departure/arrival times(from anecdotal experience).

Even where higher speed is desirable, scaling up our existing "hyperfast"(medium speed) rail should be prioritized.

Take Mumbai-Bengaluru. Two massive, wealthy cities. The fastest train between them currently takes 21.5 hrs. A lot of people with money wouldn't take this train, but they would take a Tejas express train which would cover the distance in 12-13 hours overnight.

Even still, if I wanted to travel this route this weekend, not a single train ticket, in any class, is available. But plane tickets are. And this is always the case. Train tickets sell out waaay earlier than plane tickets consistently. The plane demand is downstream of people not getting train tickets in the first place, and not necessarily a demand for very fast travel.

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Very good article kyle.

India indeed needs such extensive hsr network, but maybe don't have enough resources for now. For now we should go after Delhi Mumbai chennai connections where gdp per capita is high enough to sustain such projects

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First Correct your map of India 😐, by whos permission u have Shown Arunachal Pradesh as Disputed territory?

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Jun 9·edited Jun 9

The bullet train technology which is going from Mumbai to ahemdabad will not serve a pan India network.India need same like Chinese trains like in Europe which can run in normal tracks will make a pan India network,existing tracks where passenger congestion is there, India need to build dedicated tracks for HSR network .This map is fair one which is the practical high speed map which India can afford..

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Good one Kyle. The first time I travelled from Shanghai to Beijing, it took almost ten hours. Now it is 4.5 hours, practically the same time it takes me to travel from Trivandrum to Cochin, a distance of just over 200km. The changes that HSR brought to the economy of different Chinese cities is seen to be believed, none of them was planned when building the train network.

Reminded of the escalator they built in Hong Kong Mid-levels, which was seen as a waste, over-the-top expenditure to pamper the rich tenants. All of this must have sounded very convincing then and probably true to a large extent. And it did overrun the budget and was criticised severely. But now both sides of that 800-metre long escalator have become thriving trade areas, generating income for thousands of businesses.

Connecting people faster inevitably leads to the spillage of ideas, knowledge and innovations. That itself must be a major motivator for any government.

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Missing link to Andhra Pradesh and Visakhapatnam is very bad idea.

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Good article, map is showing all major city connected with metro rail line, but only Mumbai howrah via nagpur and raipur missed. This route is also need to be considered.

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North-east???

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