Rail travel in Kerala is rigged with hardships and the state is infamous for having the lowest average speed for express trains. The express trains in Kerala used to have a maximum allowed speed of 100km/h which was then raised to 110km/h, a few months back. This is still very low compared to the fastest train in India, the Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi Express, with a maximum allowed speed of 150km/h. High-speed trains usually have a speed of around 350km/hr, with a minimum speed of 200 km/h.
Kerala’s road system is grossly inadequate to hold the brimming vehicular traffic growing at the rate of 10% per annum. High density of population, a narrow land strip (30 – 120 km in width), and an extended shore line of 560 kilometres make the state perfectly suited for a high-speed rail link.
The soon-to-be-established international airports in Kannur and Aranmula, besides the existing ones in Trivandrum, Cochin and Karipur, reiterates the need for a high speed rail link, to offer the commuters a cheaper, yet reasonably fast, link among the important urban centres of the state.
The Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation was formed in September 2011, to speed up the initial works on the proposed Rs.1.18 lakh crore high-speed rail corridor between Trivandrum and Kasargod. These trains are expected to have a maximum speed of 300 km/h, traversing the distance between Trivandrum and Kochi in just 45 minutes, and the entire distance from Trivandrum to Kasargod in just a few hours. The trains are to be modelled after Japan's bullet trains, utilising similar technology.
The central government has also envisioned a similar project with steps being taken to form a National High Speed Rail Corporation to expedite the ambitious task of creating a high speed rail corridor linking seven major regions in the country. The primary importance would be given to the Mumbai – Ahmedabad line, for which feasibility studies have already been initiated. Trivandrum is also part of the project, with the city being included in the Chennai – Bangalore – Coimbatore – Trivandrum corridor, with a total length of 649 kilometres.
Both the projects have been given clearance by the Planning Commission and the Prime Minister's office. The work on the Trivandrum - Mangalore stretch is to be inaugurated by the Kerala Chief Minister next May. At present, the state government awaits the detailed report of the project, the submission of which has a deadline set to December. The high speed link may also be extended to Udupi for the benefit of Mookambika devotees. The Karnataka Government has shown interest in extending the proposed Bangalore – Mysore high speed rail link to Udupi, further increasing the prospects of the proposed extension.
The national level high speed rail project hasn't put forward any dates regarding its initiation or completion. But Kerala high speed rail link is expected to be completed by 2021. However, confusion prevails, with the Kochi District Collector, P I Sheikh Pareed declaring that the preliminary study being conducted by DMRC is not final, and that the final decision would be made only after the project report has been submitted.
High speed rails have played a pivotal role in changing the face of countries like Japan and Korea. The construction of even a kilometre of the special tracks for high speed rail travel will cost close to Rs 70 crores. Ninety percent of such high speeds tracks will be on elevated tracks, bridges and tunnels, both above and below the ground, with only a limited portion spanning the surface.. In spite of the high speeds, such trains have a remarkable safety record which is virtually spotless, as displayed by the bullet trains in Japan and the TGVs in Europe.
Close to 800 hectares of land has to be acquired for laying down of the high speed tracks for the Trivandrum – Mangalore rail corridor. Measurement of land for the national project has yet to be carried out. The trains from the two separate projects are proposed to have their terminal stations at Trivandrum, the oldest functioning station building in India, which already stands choked under the bursting rail traffic.
The state, however, remains apprehensive about the execution of two high speed rail projects which will require enormous amount of investment. The projects, with one involving the state government and the other, the central government have been granted approval by the Prime Minister's office. The state government hasn’t yet been successful in acquiring the land required to facilitate the doubling of Ernakulam – Kayamkulam stretch via Alappuzha as well as Kottayam. This leaves Kerala to wonder about the feasibility of instituting two double tracked, high speed rail links when projects of even lesser magnitudes still remain static.
image courtesy: betternation.org