China Keen on In­dia’s High-Speed Rail Projects

Af­ter de­vel­op­ing the world’s big­gest HSR net­work – at 19,000 km it is longer than all of world’s high-speed lines put to­gether – China is now look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, in­clud­ing In­dia, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore and In

The Economic Times - - Saturday Feature -

Pan­els man­u­fac­tured by US com­puter maker Dell line up the con­trol cen­tre of the China Rail­way Cor­po­ra­tion (CRC), pro­vid­ing real-time data on the move­ment of 7,000 pas­sen­ger trains – half of them the famed high-speed ones – and 20,000 cargo trains daily.

Zhuang He, head of the con­trol cen­tre, is un­fazed when asked about the 78 pan­els, lit up by blue and red lines that show the po­si­tions of the trains. “We have no prob­lem buy­ing from Amer­ica. Ours is an in­te­grated in­ter­na­tional pur­chase sys­tem. Who­ever of­fers the best deal, we go for it,” he tells a group of vis­it­ing jour­nal­ists from In­dia and ma­jor ASEAN coun­tries.

It is clear that qual­ity and speed are the main­stay of the CRC, specif­i­cally, the High Speed Rail­way (HSR). Af­ter de­vel­op­ing the world’s big­gest HSR net­work – at 19,000 km it is longer than all of world’s high-speed lines put to­gether – China is now look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, in­clud­ing In­dia, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore and In­done­sia.

Stung by the worst-ever eco­nomic growth in 25 years, China is mak­ing an ag­gres­sive at­tempt to woo th­ese coun­tries and sell its HSR tech­nol­ogy. While In­dia has tied up with Ja­pan for its first high-speed train to run on a 505-km track be­tween Mum­bai and Ahmed­abad, China is keen to work on other pro­posed routes. It is car­ry­ing out fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies for high-speed lines on the 2,200-km Chen­nai-New Delhi route and the 1,200-km long New Delhi-Mum­bai cor­ri­dor.

Zhao Guotang, vice gen­eral en­gi­neer of CRC, told ET the fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies were “pro­gress­ing well” and it hoped to do busi­ness with In­dia in the near fu­ture. The pro­posed Chen­nai-New Delhi cor­ri­dor could be the sec­ond-largest in the world, af­ter the 2,298 km-long Bei­jing-Guangzhou line, which was launched three years ago.

In­dia ac­cepted Ja­pan’s of­fer for its first high-speed train be­cause of easy loan terms of­fered by Tokyo. While the Chi­nese may not of­fer con­ces­sional and easy loan terms, they claim their ex­per­tise and tech­nol­ogy is com­pat­i­ble with that of In­dia and other South­east Asian coun­tries. Zhao said it’s not just about the terms, it’s also about the speed with which the project is ex­e­cuted.

Com­par­ing the Chi­nese HSR with that of com­peti­tors, he said that while China made over 1,000 km of such tracks in the past decade, Ja­pan made 350 km and France man­aged 320 km.

How­ever, where av­er­age speed is con­cerned, Ja­panese trains run at be­tween 240 and 320 kmph, whereas the Chi­nese ones are de­signed to go up to 250 kmph. Ma­glev (mag­netic lev­i­ta­tion) trains have achieved faster speeds in both coun­tries.

“We share a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties with In­dia and other South­east Asian coun­tries in terms of the large pop­u­la­tion and the fact we are all de­vel­op­ing coun­tries,” Zhao said. The is­sues and prob­lems that China over­came while de­vel­op­ing its HSR are sim­i­lar to what In­dia presently faces. “I am aware of the on­go­ing de­bate in In­dia – whether it makes fi­nan­cial sense to go in for ex­pen­sive HSR when there are so manyprob­lem­splagu­ingth­e­con­ven­tional rail­way sys­tem. Also, whether the HSR will ever earn prof­its con­sid­er­ing the high price of tick­ets,” Zhao said. The pro­posal to go in for HSR was met with the same scep­ti­cism in China. How­ever, it didn’t take too long for the HSR lines in China to run into green from red. The Nan­chang-Shang­hai line started gen­er­at­ing profit in the first year of oper­a­tions. The 1,318-km Bei­jing-Shang­hai HSR started earn­ing money in the third year. “Last year, it made a profit of over 6 bil­lion ren­minbi ($927 mil­lion) and this year, it is hoped it will ex­ceed 10 bil­lion RMB,” Zhao said.

He ad­mit­ted that China re­lied heav­ily on non-fare rev­enue, too, for earn­ings from the rail­ways. They leased out land for shops and other com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, ex­actly what In­dia has been try­ing to achieve, as an­nounced­byrail­waymin­is­terSureshPrabhu dur­ing the bud­get.

Apart from re­sis­tance to HSR, there were other sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween prob­lems faced by In­dia and China. Land ac­qui­si­tion to build new lines and rail­way struc­tures was one and com­pe­ti­tion from other trans­port sec­tors such as high­ways and air­lines was an­other. To­tal pas­sen­gers car­ried by Chi­nese Rail­ways

daily Pas­sen­gers car­ried by HSR

(out of 9.8 mil­lion) daily To­tal pas­sen­ger trains

Zhao said China had done a lot of work on re­set­tling those whose land had been taken by the govern­ment. “We had ma­jor prob­lems. Peo­ple re­sisted and so did the lo­cal govern­ments. It was not easy get­ting each and ev­ery­one on board,” he ex­plained.

Com­par­ing the pric­ing of tick­ets of var­i­ous modes of trans­port, the Chi­nese rail­way chief said the fare for a reg­u­lar pas­sen­ger train is 10 cents per km, while sec­ond class on HSR costs 48 cents per km and first class costs 80 cents. An air ticket, on av­er­age, came to about 1 RMB per km.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing that HSR rates were high, Zhao said this was af­ter air­lines had been forced to lower their rates since they were los­ing out to HSR.

Ar­gu­ing in favour of HSR, Zhao said the ben­e­fits by far ex­ceeded the prob­lems. He talked about the “one-city ef­fect” brought about by HSR, which in­te­grated cities in a seam­less man­ner. “HSR is not magic but I should say it is needed for the country’s eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment. It is a good thing and we are happy to share our ex­pe­ri­ences with other coun­tries,” Zhao said.

(The cor­re­spon­dent vis­ited China on an in­vi­ta­tion of the Chi­nese Rail­way Cor­po­ra­tion and Chi­nese Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs)

A CRH high-speed train runs across Urumqi city dur­ing its test run on Novem­ber 11, 2014 in Urumqi, Xin­jiang Uyghur Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion of China

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