Monday, 28 December 2009

The fastest train in the world

China is a very competitive country. It likes to make a competition of everything it can win ! So its not surprising that last week it unveiled the “fastest train in the world”.

The train in question is the bullet train between Guangzhou and Wuhan. Guangzhou is where I live – the southern China city, known earlier as Canton and close to Hong Kong. You can be forgiven for not knowing anything about Wuhan. It’s a city in central China, mostly unknown to the rest of the world. Why is the fastest train in the world going there ? Well, its not going just there; the train is meant to be between Guangzhou and Beijing – Wuhan is about the midway point and this is the first phase of the line.

The train claims an average speed of 350 kmph. The earlier train journey between Guangzhou and Wuhan took some 10 hours. Now it takes 3.

This is all part of the massive investments in infrastructure that China is making. I had argued here that one of the obvious things India has to learn from China is the importance of infrastructure. China has further stepped up the infrastructure investment as part of the stimulus package. While most other countries have focused their stimulus on the short term – tax breaks, cash for clunkers, doles, etc, China has mostly focused on even more spending in infrastructure. Trains like the Guangzhou Wuhan link are going to spring up all over China over the next 5 years.

The Indian railways was, and is, one of the great organizations of the country. For a long time, it was the biggest railway network in the world. No longer. It has been rapidly overtaken by China and is going to be left far behind. For decades, Indian Railways has been starved of investments in tracks, high speed links, new trains. Instead the money has been wasted on subsidies, bloated lower level staff, and the like. Laloo Prasad brought efficiency and profitability back to the Railways and was sacked for his efforts as he had the temerity to stand against the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections.

Imagine if India replicated the Chinese achievements in the Railways. Madras to Bangalore would be an hour’s journey. Bombay to Delhi would be a 4 hour journey. Madras to Delhi, 6 hours. Bangalore to Bombay three and a half hours. The Bhopal Shatabdi, the fastest train in India has an average speed of 90 kmph. The Guangzhou Wuhan train’s average speed is 350 kmph.

I'm not able to post a photo of the Wuhan station, thanks to my Net Nanny, but just gaze at the photo here. Jaw dropping. We should bring Mamta and the entire Railway Ministry to China and make them travel on this train. Not the Railway Board – they know all this and in any case, they are one of the most efficient company Boards in the country. Maybe, just maybe, our netas and babus will realize the art of the possible, even in a poor country. Just let the top class Railway Board run it without interference. In 10 years, you and I will also have the privilege of commuting from Madras to Bangalore in an hour.

That will be the day.


Athivas said...

Mesmerized with the magnificence of the Wuhan station. I am yet to drop my jaw. They've proved themselves with their tall buildings and now, the railways. Will we ever learn??

VA said...

Magnificent photos of a railway station... looks like even our airports can not match up to such infrastructure.

I would await eagerly for the day when I can travel from Delhi to Chennai in 6 hours. Speaking of the poor state of railways in our country, netas and babus just create vote banks out of the responsible job of handling a ministry as important as it may be. A guy called Paswan comes and Hajipur becomes railway head-quarters of the country; if things could go according to his wish, even Chennai Rajdhani would have a halt at Hajipur. Then comes a lady called Mamta and Bengal takes over as most deprived state as far as railways is concerned. Oblivious of larger picutre, these netas and babus end up commencing dozens of trains via their own constituency. We "aam janta" again wait for next Lok Sabha elections with lots of hopes as the democracy moves on... Alas!

Sandhya Sriram said...

If this country is led by set of heroes who can charge sheet Narayan Murthy - one of the pillars who had changed the face of the state which has never bothered to invest on anything - infrastructure, education, city planning, then we will continue taking 4 hours to travel from Bangalore North to Bangalore South leave alone anything else.

the voter turn out in urban india is less than 50%. we are willing to take more than 2 hours travelling on useless roads every day 360 days a year but will not find 1 hour to go and cast a vote, we will have to live like this only.

gils said...

hmm..i wont say our Railway guys are nt trying..hopefully we shd have more mono rails..metro rails might be delayed..but definitely before pandora becomes a reality..atleast the navi's can travel in it wen they visit here :)

gils said...

cometo think of it..side upper apidinu oru seat vachirukangalay..have u ever travelled in tht? wenever i get my blr<->chn ticket booked for a side upper invariably i ended up with SL/SU...if u r anything over 5 ft 10' ..chinese torture chamber wud be more lenient compared to ths...u've to fold urslef four times to partially fit into those "seats" and sleep..!!..forget it. But yeah thanks to those seats..i always got dwn in city stn rather than mysore wenever i came by kaveri :D i think improving our rail infra shd start from abolishing this seat

Ramesh said...

@athivas - Its just that they have reaslied the value of infrastructure. When we do (not if), we'll be the same.

@VA - Yes, we have been blessed with a succession of Railway Ministers who have considered it the gravy train they can put their hands into.

@Sandhya - That charge against NRN for the Airport is a sick joke. It deserves to, and will, be tossed into the garbage bin.

@gils - I have a lot of respect for the railway professionals. Gievn their constraints they do a magnificent job. Its the babus and netas who deserve a kick.

Oh yes, SU is a very famailiar. Being over your stated height, I have enjoyed the pleasures of SU in the manner you exactly describe !

A journey called Life said...

very impressive the write up and the look of the new train and station..very state of the art.. it is like they know how exactly which direction to go in.. as for us, we will not learn, even if we do, we will not implement soon enough..

Exkalibur666 said...

An even more marvellous a feat was railway to Lhasa. We need a lot more E Sreedharan's and we need our netas to give people like him a lot of space to operate.

Srivats said...


I saw this in the news and knew immediately, that u are going to write about it :)

350 km per hour, and from blr to chennai just 1 hour, how much business hours would be saved,what profit this would bring! wow good to imagine and I really hope changes happens soon.

I mean everything starts with the the thought process and I wish to stay positive abt it, as you said given the constraints these ppl in the trains do loads of good work. Just the infrastucture needs some more planning and heads have to change a lot. would happen in due course :) thats the hope

FOr now, I wish to travel by that train in ur city. Would u be surprised if I come knocking on ur door ?

Srivats said...

And hey pandora would defn happen soon :) and we would revert to good old days of agriculture and nature bound living, I bet! :)

Ramesh said...

@AJCL - I have presented a one sided story on this , deliberately to drive the contrast with India. But there is another side. The ticket prices on this train are exhorbitant. Now the rich and middle class in China all travel by plane. The fare is unaffordable by the ordinary train traveller. And it all costs a bomb to build. The Wuhan station alone cost $2 bn. So is it worth it ??

@Exkalibur - The Lhasa link was an engineering marvel. We have a similar marvel - the Konkan Railway. People like Sreedharan are there in the Railways - thats why I say its one of the finest organisations. Its the political leadership thats the problem. When a sensible leadership came (laloo), see how that organisation reacted.

@Sri - Yes, I see that its been widely reported in the Indian press. It touches a nerve in every Indian; so had to write about it. No Sri - pandora's box would always be closed. nd even if it did open, hope would also come out.

LG said...

you must be kidding, this is amazing is it a Railway Station? Obvious that these things should have had a visionary behind. Shame on us, still going 50 years back (partition based on language and all) rather than thinking ahead just 5 or 10 years down the road. Just hope or trust that prevails at the one foremost corner of my heart - forever!

Ramesh said...

@LG - We had some visionaries in the past too. Think of Nehru starting the IITs, IIM way back then. Unfortunately our current crop of leaders are not in the same league.

kiwibloke said...

we will play the eternal catch up game. Having said that the customer orientation and the ease of travel in trains in India has significantly improved. Slooowly we will move on. (hopefully we will get the visionaries the build the 83 meter bridge which will help me move to a quieter part of whitefield!)
PS: was away on my usual no phone, no internet, no tv/newspaper break for four days and did'nt see your earlier blogs.And would you believe it if I said I ACTUALLY drove from Coimbatore to Bangalore (361km door to door) in 5 hours and 35 minutes flat with a 5 minute smoko break! I used to do that in 9hours earlier - boss that is some progress.Things will take time. Any ways merry X'mas, Happy New Year and hopefully a lot more blogs this year

Ramesh said...

@kiwi - Oh things have greatly improved both in Railways and on the roads (outside the cities) too. Currently India spends the same percentage of GDP on ifrastructure as China. I can believe your Coimbatore bangalore journey . HJS often tells me that we Indians are far too critical of our infrastructure and don't see the imporvments being made. Havind said that, the infrastructure, especially in the cities is still woeful.

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