The distance from Bombay to Delhi is approximately 1,300 km. From Bombay to Bangalore is 1,000 km. From Bombay to Madras is, maybe, 1,100 km. Now, if I wanted to go to Delhi by train, I could board the Rajdhani at 4 pm in the evening in Bombay and reach next morning around 9.00 am. Total time taken is 17 hours. More than the 17 hours taken, I can work most of the day in Bombay and catch a train. The same applies when if I want to travel to Bombay from Delhi.
Now, if I wish to travel from Bombay to Bangalore, its a different story. One train I know leaves in the morning and reaches next morning. Another leaves in the evening and arrives next evening. It takes 24 hours, not a minute more, not a minute less. Its the same story with Madras. And it has taken the same time for perhaps 30 years. Its possible that before that it took less time. As has been demonstrated in some sectors.
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has unveiled a new railway budget full of small steps which are good. They suggest a determination to change things. They also reflect an attempt to cater to aspirations. Like the introduction of more affordable air-conditioned trains. But not one real step that either acknowledges or attempts to acknowledge the fact that for the best part since Independence, speed has never been the essence in the railway economy.
Digital Economy & Real Economy
The contrast between the digital economy which allows Bangalore to connect with the rest of the world instantaneously and the real economy where trains to Bangalore take longer than to the capital couldn't be more stark. In effect, the government's priority in connecting the political capital to its state capitals continues to remain higher than connecting its economic growth centres to the rest of the country.
Yes, there is a Rs 22,000 crore dedicated freight corridor in the west and east. The project is to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister. The intention is laudable. But, the track record of similar large size projects is woeful. Like the limping Golden Quadrilateral. And in a knowledge/services economy, people movement should be priority. Not just between Delhi and Agra or Kanpur. Of course freight should move quickly. But you need both. People often tend to assume its one for the other.
Nor am I saying we should not have Rajdhanis running to Delhi in high speed and comfort. All I am saying is that we need to have superfast (not defined in railway terminology) trains that run to the new economic centres. And these are not new any more. This is not because Air Deccan will undercut Indian Railways. Its because a country can only progress faster if it moves faster. And I mean the larger mass, not the handful who can afford air-fares. And its the lack of efforts in this direction which is sad. And the refusal of the Railways to focus on this makes it worse.
Konkan Railway Tried
Former Konkak Railway Corporation MD B Rajaram wanted to run trains at over 150 kmph down the western corridor. He even conducted a few succesful tests. Which would have meant Bombay-Goa in less than five hours. By train ! The Indian Railways (the parent organisation) stymied it. The fact that KRC has seen more than its share of accidents hasn't helped. And like everything else, the baby got thrown out with the bath water. Instead we had talk of bullet trains between Bombay and Ahmedabad. That's like trying to fly before walking.
Even these guys can go faster, if you want to them to
So, if trains can run from Bombay to Delhi in 17 hours, Bombay-Bangalore could technically be done in, maybe, 15. Imagine, boarding at 7 pm at Dadar station and alighting at 8.30 am in central Bangalore. Sure, it will call for schedule changes, track upgradation et al. But that does not mean it cannot be done.
Wonder if this railway minister or previous ones have noted that visiting heads of state often visit Bangalore first before coming to Delhi. Or for that matter Hyderabad. Albeit that city will be second port of call in George Bush's itinerary. Does anyone think why they don't visit Patna, or, for that matter Lucknow ? The answer stares at your face. Economic centres outweigh political centres of importance. If people outside the country can recognise it, why can't we ?