Volume IconHas Vande Bharat Express made the Bullet train less aspirational?

While the bullet train project is delayed, the Indian Railways recently launched a set of upgraded Vande Bharat trains. Will these semi high-speed trains make the bullet train less aspirational?

Vande Bharat

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged-off the second Vande Bharat 2.0 train between Himachal Pradesh’s Una and New Delhi on October 13. The train will take about five hours and 20 minutes to cover the stretch -- about two hours faster than the other trains. It will take three hours to cover the distance between Delhi and Chandigarh -- which falls on the 350-km route.

On September 30th, PM Modi had given green signal to a Vande Bharat 2.0 train between Gandhinagar and Mumbai. The train covers the distance of 492 kilometres in 5 hours and 45 minutes compared to 7-8 hours by ordinary express trains and 6-7 hours by the Shatabdi Express.

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Train 18 or Vande Bharat 2.0 is the country’s first engineless train. Unlike other trains, it will not have a separate engine coach. It has an integrated engine like a bullet or metro train. Equipped with advanced state-of-the-art safety features including an indigenously developed Train Collision Avoidance System or KAVACH, it reaches the speed of zero to 100 kilometres per hour in just 52 seconds.

It weighs 392 tonnes, which is 38 tonnes lighter than the first two train sets that have been running on New Delhi-Varanasi and New Delhi-Katra routes.

The train’s total seating capacity of 1,128 passengers is spread over 16 air-conditioned coaches, including two executive class coaches.

This version is equipped with 32 inch screens providing passenger information and infotainment on every coach in place of the earlier 24 inch TVs. Side recliner seat facility which was provided only to Executive Class passengers earlier will now be made available for all classes while Executive Coaches will have the added feature of 180-degree rotating seats.

Designed in India with 80% local materials, it costs about Rs 110 crore to make Vande Bharat rake. These trains have a top speed of 160 kilometres per hour and reduce journey time by 25% to 45%. 

The average speed of Mail and Express trains in India has remained around 50 kmph. While freight trains run at an average speed of 23 kmph. In 2019, only 62 of the 2,951 express trains in India had average speed of more than 75 kmph.

The Integral Coach Factory in Chennai will build 75 Vande Bharat trains by August 2023 and 475 by 2026. For this, the existing tracks need to be uplifted. Even as the production of Vande Bharat trains ramps up, the country’s first high-speed rail, or bullet train project, has been plagued by delays. 

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project, the foundation stone for which was laid in 2017, will cover a stretch of 508.17 km and is estimated to cost 1.08 trillion rupes. The bullet train would run at a speed of 320 km per hour, halving the estimated travel time between the two cities to three hours from Vande Bharat’s near six hours. 

But the delay in execution is expected to increase the planned project cost. Earlier, the project was to be commissioned by December 2023. The deadline has now been extended, with the first phase to be completed by 2026 and full completion expected in 2028.

So far, 90-95% of the 1396-hectare (ha) needed for the project has been acquired. Besides the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project, seven new bullet train projects worth around 10 trillion rupees are in various stages of planning.

The newly planned routes Delhi-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Bengaluru, Delhi-Chandigarh and Mumbai-Hyderabad. The final sanction for these new projects will depend on the outcome of a detailed project report, techno-economic feasibility, availability of resources and financing options.

The one-way fare for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train is expected to be Rs 3,000. Meanwhile, the ticket fare of the Gandhinagar-Mumbai Vande Bharat will be Rs 1,440 for chair car and 2650 rupees for executive coach.

With the advent of Vande Bharat trains, India’s fastest yet, and their planned proliferation, will Indians still aspire for bullet trains? To get answers, we spoke to Sudhanshu Mani, the former General Manager of Chennai’s Integral Coach Factory and the mastermind behind Train 18 or the Vandhe Bharat trainset
Speaking to Business Standard, Sudhanshu Mani, Former General Manager, Integral Coach Factory Chennai says, Bullet Train and Vande Bharat are two different ball games. Bullet trains can make flights unnecessary, Vande Bharat can only compete. Vande Bharat can aspire to go at 200kmph, nowhere close to bullet train.While Vande Bharat is significantly faster than most of the current trains plying India’s vast railway network, it is no match to the bullet train whose speeds are up to twice as fast. Given its aspirations, India cannot be an outlier when most of the world’s developed countries are investing in high-speed trains. 

First Published: Oct 24 2022 | 07:00 AM IST

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