Monday, December 28, 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.