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Focus on high speed trains

High speed trains? For the rich? Our Rahuls and Jairams will cry hoarse. Remember such opposition when the Congress stepped up expenditure on space exploration? Today India excels in rocket science and so profitably! The ripple effect of fast travel, as demonstrated by China, can be humongous.

THE GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930s plunged the US economy into miserable depths. Undaunted President Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) launched the US on a massive growth path, soon after the severe depression.

His New Deal was based on stimulating the economy through mobilisation of resources from the public and innovative new institutions – Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Federal Housing Administration, Rural Electrification Administration and a number of rural banks and cooperatives.

FDR saw the poor state of electrification with just 10 per cent of rural America electrified. He invited the business barons to provide electricity to the villages and offered protection of their investments along with liberal incentives. US had a good number of these like Dale Carnegie, George B Hill, Henry Ford, Alfred Sloan, J P Morgan, Rockefeller… who were sitting on mountains of money. FDR’s New Deal to revitalise the US economy worked wonders: in just 15 years, 90 per cent of  rural America got electrified.

Such liberal policies post the World War II, like Gen Eisenhover embarking on a massive highway development programme, contributed to America’s dominance through the rest of the century.

Set apart Rs 2 lakh crore specifically for infrastructure development like a high speed rail system.

TURN CRISIS to Opportunity…

There is a great opportunity to convert the present economic crisis to advantage. Remember India doing this in 1991 by the P V Narasimha Rao-Dr Manmohan Singh team which liberated the country from archaic state controls? The subsequent three decades had witnessed the country emerging economically strong winning recognition as a significant economic entity.

At the base of the spectacular growth of China over the last 15 years lies its focus on infrastructure like roads and railways. This has led to her building enviable logistics which, in turn, helped her build extensive supply chains.

Chennai – Delhi and Mumbai – Kolkata in 7 hours!

India can trigger high growth despite the depressed state of the economy.

The Modi government has embarked on a wide range of reforms, fiscal, monetary and social, estimated to involve around Rs 20 lakh crore.  Modi could think of setting apart Rs 2 lakh crore specifically for infrastructure development through a high speed rail system. It would help connect the north and the south (Delhi with Chennai) and east and the west (Kolkata with Mumbai) building infrastructure for running trains at speeds of 350-400 kmph. This will mean Delhi can be reached from Chennai and Mumbai from Kolkata in just 6-7 hrs. This will also provide employment on a large scale for states all along the routes. 

Such a project will bring along major improvements in signaling, telecommunications, engines, coaches and other rolling stock… to global standards. These could be replicated in other corridors.

It should be possible to obtain funding over the long term from countries like Japan, Germany, France, Russia, USA, China… If needed, a portion of the equipment and even construction contracts could be awarded to complete the project in 3-4 years.

This will call for the ability to acquire the required land and provide the clearances quick, a break from lethargy and the ‘inevitability of gradualness’ approach. Look at the years taken for constructing the Delhi-Mumbai freight corridor or even the prestigious Ahmedabad-Mumbai high speed train project that is bogged down with land acquisition problems.

China demonstrated its ability to conceive and implement big projects efficiently and on time. Even while India aspires to become strong like China, it should match her capabilities.

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