Kerala has three main choices before it in terms of developing a speedy mass rapid transport system to ensure faster commutes for its burgeoning population and traffic requirement, says Alok Verma, one of the experts who worked with Paris-based consultancy Systra for preparing the feasibility report for the SilverLine project. He later became an ardent critic of the project.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Verma says the State, with its rich endowment of paddy fields and waterbodies, has certain limitations in experimenting with projects such as SilverLine.
Instead of going after stand-alone projects cut off from the main lines, the State should explore the possibility of introducing tilting trains in the existing broad gauge rail tracks which will allow Kerala to increase the speed of trains by about 20%-30%, says Mr. Verma. (Tilting trains, which have a mechanism enabling higher speed on regular broad-gauge tracks, tilt while negotiating a bend or curve on the track, just as a motorbike on a winding road.)
Tilting trains can be introduced after installing automatic signalling and strengthening the existing tracks. Around ₹15,000 crore is required altogether for switching to the tilting trains, and the work can be completed in just three to four years, he adds.
The second option is the State can straighten the curves in the existing lines once the doubling works are over. This would allow the Railways to run trains reaching speeds in the range of 160-180 km/hr. However, of course, it’s a daunting challenge as land acquisition is required and around ₹30,000 crore is needed for it as there are more than 600 curves at varying degrees in the existing lines, points out Mr. Verma.
The third option is that the State can explore the possibility of constructing a dedicated line on broad gauge for running high-speed or semi-high-speed trains if it desperately requires a high-speed train. This would allow the State to integrate the new lines with existing ones, he says.
Mr. Verma claims that the decision to choose the standard gauge to implement the semi-high-speed rail project by the K-Rail authorities was taken not out of a commitment to people. The technology provider and money-lending institutions would be the major beneficiaries of this project, he says.
“I don’t understand why the Railway Board has been pushing projects on standard gauge at a time when it had given clearance for implementing projects such as the semi-high-speed broad gauge rail line between Pune and Nashik for a route length of about 235.15 km,‘‘ he says.