China wooing India for building high-speed rail networks

India’s first bullet train project may have gone to Japan but China is wooing the country to help build high-speed railway on other routes, claiming that it has the technology and expertise which could bring enormous economic and social benefits to the people. With questions being raised on the cost factor involving setting up of high-speed railway networks, China has cited its own example of the profits that it is reaping now.

“The reason of introducing or promoting our high-speed railway (HSR) to other countries is that we are confident in our technologies. The second reason is that we share a lot of similarities with southeast Asian countries in terms of large population and we are all developing countries,” Vice General Engineer of the China Railway Corporation Zhao Guotang told visiting journalists from India and some ASEAN nations at the China Railways headquarters here.

“We are also quite happy to share our experiences with these nations. The advantages brought by HSR to our economic and social development is quite remarkable and quite well known,” he said.

Zhao, who holds the rank of a Deputy Minister, also asserted that the construction and operation of high-speed railway is economically sound.

Significantly, questions have been raised in India about the financial viability of setting up the HSR.

“For example Nanchang to Shanghai high-speed railway line started generating profits in the first year of its operation after opening to public. Beijing to Shanghai HSR, with a total distance of 1318 km, has been earning money in third year after being thrown open. Last year, it made a profit of over six billion RMB (USD 927 million) and this year, it is hoped it will exceed 10 billion RMB,” Zhao said.

“Beijing to Tianjin inter-city high-speed railway line has also realised profitability and Beijing to Guangzhou high-speed rail line realised balance. So, some people may say that profitability of high-speed railway is some kind of magic thing or marvellous thing, but I should say it is needed for country’s economic and social development. It is a good thing, we are happy to share our experiences with other countries,” he said.

Earlier, India’s move to opt for Japanese bullet trains on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route had raised concerns in China which is competing with Japan to build high-speed rail networks in India.

In addition to conducting a feasibility study to build a high-speed rail track on the 2,200-km Chennai-Delhi route, an India-China consortium is also conducting a study for the 1,200-km New Delhi-Mumbai corridor.

The proposed Chennai-Delhi corridor could be the second largest in the world after China’s 2,298 km-long Beijing- Guangzhou line which was launched three years ago.

“For our Beijing to Guangzhou HSR line, the average operational speed is 287 kmph, which is the highest in the world, the second is in France which is 246 kmph and third in Japan at 239 kmph,” he said.

“For example, from Beijing to Guangzhou HSR line the total distance is 2,298 km and the total travelling time of the fastest train on this route is 8 hours and 2 minutes,” he said.

On the feasibility studies in India, Zhao said the party responsible for such work is Third Railway Survey and Design Institute Group Corporation (TSDI) of China.

“They have taken about 50 per cent of feasibility work of our overseas rail projects, so they have rich experience in this area,” he said.

Asked if HSR was an expensive proposition and if China faced similar problems when it set up such projects, he said, “actually, national conditions in India are somewhat similar to what we have in China. In the railway development of China, we have also experienced the process from the upgrading of the existing lines to the development of high-speed railway lines.”

“However, there is always a feeling for the upper limitation of upgrading our existing railway lines, that’s why we decided to develop the HSR after we have upgraded the speed of existing rail lines to 200 kmph. Not every existing rail line needs to be re-built into HSR line, this needs thorough economic analysis and it also needs consideration of the passenger demand,” he said.

Further, the senior railway official said, “I will give you two examples or two technical parameters of railways. The first is the distance between centres of tracks, this parameter of HSR than that of existing railway is quite different. If you want to build or upgrade a new line on the basis of the existing railway line, you need to overcome this difference. Actually, what you need to do is somewhat similar to built a new line.

“Second parameter is the curved radius of high-speed rail line is also different than that of existing line. In China, in our experience, most of our existing railway line run across the urban areas. So, even in our upgrading of existing rail lines, we have done a lot of work in land acquisition and re-settlement…In short, the decision between the upgrading of existing lines and building new HSR lines depends on thorough study analysis.”

Zhao said China had also experienced different voices and different opinions in the country with regards to HSR.

“But finally we decided to choose the path of developing HSR. Now, it is proved that our choice is correct,” he said.