India's wait for a bullet train may be over soon, with the Indian Railways contemplating to set up three dedicated high-speed corridors where trains will travel at speeds of at least 250 km an hour.
The routes under consideration for running these trains are the Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Jaipur and Chennai-Bangalore sections. The cost to build their infrastructure could range from Rs 200-300 crore (Rs 2-3 billion) a km.
This is not to suggest that travel on such trains would be more expensive than on flights. Sources in the know pointed out that the tariffs between Mumbai and Pune could be in the range of Rs 1,500, as compared to average air fares of over Rs 2,500 for the distance.
The fares between Delhi and Jaipur could be around Rs 2,400, as against anything between Rs 2,500 and Rs 4,000 for a flight.
However, for the Chennai-Bangalore route, passengers might have to fork out as much as they would for a low-cost carrier. The reason is simple: cut-throat competition on this route has seen prices fall rock-bottom.
Each high-speed train will have six coaches, and will carry 400-450 passengers. However, it would be possible to increase the number of coaches to 10.
The railways are already discussing the pros and cons of such a mega project, and various estimations are being worked out. It may be recalled that Railway Minister Lalu Prasad had announced his intention of running such trains while presenting the budget, after he had had an experience of such travel during a visit to Europe.
The sources said the Maharashtra government had already evinced interest in the project. However, considering the huge costs involved, discussions are on over the best financing option, as also whether it is feasible to take up such a project at all.
If taken up, the Mumbai-Pune stretch could cost about Rs 32,000 crore (Rs 320 billion) at the least. It is being said that the railways might want a private-public partnership, with considerable participation from the private sector.
The fastest trains in the country at present, which include the Shatabdi Express and the Rajdhani Express, run at a maximum speed of 160 km an hour.
Should the railways decide on having trains powered by magnetic levitation, the speeds could touch up to 400 km per hour. But even at lower speeds, the "Bullet trains" could shorten distances like never before.