Bullet trains not a priority
Address Railways’ other problems first
The official enthusiasm aroused by the planned bullet train that is meant to run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai from 2023 provides a hint of the glittering life about to be inaugurated for Indians. The magnificent loan from Japan, the apparent fairy-tale rate of interest and the schedule of payback, all promise to be another publicity triumph for Narendra Modi, with high expectations of domestic political benefits. The dazzle obscures the slightly uncomfortable fact that railway accidents keep on happening at alarmingly close intervals — three since the new Union minister for railways took over on September 3 — the latest being the derailment of the Jammu Rajdhani Express. Since as late as last December, a standing committee report on railways’ safety and security had concluded that underinvestment was one of the main reasons for the frequency of railway accidents, the enormous investment in a bullet train programme looks a little surprising.
Besides, a smoother, more efficient railway system running on upgraded tracks, not dangerously worn-out ones that repeatedly affect speed, could help increase revenue from freight. By becoming cheap but fast and safe too, the railways could compete fruitfully with roads in this sphere. A bullet train cannot be the subject of political fancy alone.