High-speed rail in India

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Indian Railways operates India's railway system and comes under the purview of the Ministry of Railways of Government of India. As of 2023, it maintains over 108,706 km (67,547 mi) of tracks and operates over 13,000 trains daily. According to the Ministry of Railways, a route capable of supporting trains operating at more than 160 km/h (99 mph) is considered as a higher speed or semi-high speed rail line.

As of 2023, India does not have any operational high-speed rail lines capable of supporting more than 200 km/h (120 mph) and the maximum operational speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) is achieved by Gatimaan Express and Vande Bharat Express on the TughlakabadAgra section and the regional RapidX services.

Earlier steam locomotive operated trains largely operated below 100 km/h (62 mph). With the introduction of electric locomotives in later 1920s and newer steam locomotives, speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph) were achieved. With the movement to AC traction in late 1950s and introduction of diesel locomotives, commercial speeds of up to 120 km/h (75 mph) was achieved in the late 1960s. With the introduction of high power electric locomotives in the 1990s, operating speeds of 130 km/h (81 mph) was achieved with further developments leading to speeds of maximum speeds of 160 km/h (99 mph) being realized in the early 2010s. Vande Bharat, an Electric Multiple Unit (EMU), introduced in 2018, is the fastest operational train-set and is capable of reaching 183 km/h (114 mph).

Prime ministers of India and Japan at ground breaking ceremony of Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed line. Modified E5 series Shinkansen that would be used in India can be seen in the backdrop.

The first high-speed railway corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad of about 508 km (316 mi) is currently under construction with a designed maximum operational speed of 320 km/h (199 mph) and is expected to be operational fully by 2028-29. As of 2023, eight such corridors have also been approved.

History[edit]

WP class steam locomotives reached speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph) in 1947

The history of the Indian Railway began in 1832 with the proposal to construct the first railway line in India at Madras. In 1837, the first train ran on Red Hill railway line between Red Hills and Chintadripet in Madras and was hauled by a rotary steam engine imported from England.[1][2] In 1853, the first passenger train ran between Bombay and Thane which covered a distance of 54 km (34 mi) in 57 minutes, averaging a speed of 57 km/h (35 mph).[3] Earlier trains ran using steam locomotives, where barely reached speeds of 90 km/h (56 mph). With the introduction of WP class locomotives in 1947, speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph) were operated commercially.[4] While the first electric train ran in Bombay in 1925 on DC traction, WCP-1 class electric locomotives were introduced in 1928, capable of speeds of up to 137 km/h (85 mph), though trains operated at lower speed.[5][6] WDM-1, the first diesel locomotive introduced in 1957 was capable of speeds of up to 104 km/h (65 mph).[7] In 1957, Indian Railways adopted 25 kV 50 Hz AC traction with the first runs beginning in December 1959 with the WAM-1 locomotives, capable of reaching speeds of up to 112 km/h (70 mph).[8]

WAP-1 electric locomotives reached a speed of 130 km/h (81 mph) in 1980

In 1960, the Railway Board of India commissioned a study to increase the speed of its trains, which was restricted to 96 km/h (60 mph) on the existent broad gauge lines.[9] A target of 160 km/h (99 mph) with an intermediate stage of 120 km/h (75 mph) was set for passenger trains. Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) started work on the same in 1962 with field trials commencing in 1967.[9] The coaches were manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory at Madras and hauled by diesel locomotives.[9] On 19 February 1969, the Government of India announced the introduction of a new express train capable of reaching speeds of up to 120 km/h (75 mph) in the railway budget.[10] On 1 March 1969, the first Rajdhani Express was flagged off from New Delhi to Howrah, which reached a maximum speed of 120 km/h (75 mph) and completed the 1,450 km (900 mi) trip in 17 hours 20 minutes at an average speed of 84 km/h (52 mph).[9][11]

WAP-5 electric locomotives reached a speed of 184 km/h (114 mph) in trials in 1984 and is the fastest locomotive currently

In 1980, the WAP-1 electric locomotives reached a speed of 130 km/h (81 mph).[12] Shatabdi Express introduced in 1988, were capable of running at a maximum speed of 130 km/h (81 mph).[13][14] WAP-5 class locomotives, initially imported from ABB in 1995 and later manufactured at Chittaranjan Locomotive Works in India, reached 184 km/h (114 mph) in trials. The locomotive later set an Indian speed record by hauling a train between Delhi and Agra at a speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) in 2014.[15] In December 2009, the Ministry of Railways of Government of India envisaged the implementation of regional high-speed rail projects to provide services at 250–350 km/h (160–220 mph), and planning for corridors connecting commercial, tourist, and pilgrimage hubs.[16][17] On 25 July 2013, Government of India established the High Speed Rail Corporation under Rail Vikas Nigam (RVNL) for the implemetation of high-speed rail corridor projects.[18][19] In 2014, the Diamond Quadrilateral high speed rail project, which would connect the cities of Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai via high-speed rail was approved by the government.[20]

Introduced in 2019, Vande Bharat train-set built by ICF, is the fastest in India

In April 2016, the WAP-5 hauled Gatimaan Express became the fastest commercial train in India, with a maximum operational speed of 160 km/h (99 mph).[21] In 2018, a modified WAP-5A locomotive reached speeds of 200 km/h (124 mph) in trials.[22] HSRC was renamed as National High Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRC) in 2016. NHRC identified eight corridors for the development of high speed railway.[23][24] Construction of the Mumbai–Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor, India's first high-speed rail corridor started in 2017 and is expected to be operational by 2028. The E5 Series Shinkansen trains operating on standard gauge and will have a maximum operational speed of 320 km/h (200 mph) and an average speed of 260 km/h (160 mph).[25][26]

In 2018, Integral Coach Factory in Chennai, rolled out a semi-high-speed EMU train-set, capable of reaching 180 km/h (110 mph).[27][28] In 2019, the first Vande Bharat Express entered commercial service with a maximum operational speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). The actual operating speed was much lower due to track restrictions and congestion with top speeds restricted to 130 km/h (81 mph) for most trains.[29] In October 2023, Namo Bharat, built for RapidX by Alstom was launched and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 180 km/h (110 mph).[30] In December 2023, two modified WAP-5 locomotives were used to haul the Amrit Bharat train-set in a push-pull configuration, capable of reaching speeds of up to 160 km/h (99 mph).[31][32]

Definition[edit]

According to the Ministry of Railways, a route where train can operate between 160–200 km/h (99–124 mph) is considered as a higher speed or semi-high speed rail line, while the routes operating at less than 160 km/h (99 mph) are considered to be conventional rail lines.[33][18] According to the International Union of Railways (IUC), a commercial speed of over 250 km/h (160 mph) for a newly built line or 200 km/h (120 mph) for an upgraded line is considered to be high-speed.[34]

  Under Construction

Classification[33][18][34]
Speed Type Length
>200 km/h (120 mph) High-speed 508 km (316 mi)
160–200 km/h (99–124 mph) Semi-high-speed 191 km (119 mi)
130–160 km/h (81–99 mph) Group A 67,869 km (42,172 mi)
110–130 km/h (68–81 mph) Group B
<110 km/h (68 mph) Group C/D/E
As of 1 January 2024

Network and infrastructure[edit]

High-speed rail[edit]

Map showing proposed high speed corridors

As of 2023, India does not have any operational high-speed tracks. In 2026, Ministry of Railways envisaged to have top speeds of 300–350 km/h (190–220 mph) with trains running on elevated corridors to isolate high-speed train tracks to prevent trespassing. Multiple feasibility studies have been done and probable routes have been identified.[35][36] In 2017, a 508 km (316 mi) standard gauge line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad was approved for construction and is expected to be operational by 2028.[25]


High-speed rail lines in India[37]
Corridor Speed Length Status Year Reference
Delhi-Varanasi 320 km/h (200 mph) 865 km (537 mi) DPR under preparation 2031 [38]
Delhi–Amritsar 320 km/h (200 mph) 480 km (300 mi) Approved 2051 [38]
Delhi–Ahmedabad 320 km/h (200 mph) 886 km (551 mi) Approved 2031 [38]
Amritsar–Jammu 320 km/h (200 mph) 190 km (120 mi) Proposed 2051 [37]
Varanasi–Howrah 320 km/h (200 mph) 711 km (442 mi) DPR under preparation 2031 [39]
Patna–Guwahati 320 km/h (200 mph) 850 km (530 mi) Proposed 2051 [37]
Mumbai–Ahmedabad 320 km/h (200 mph) 508.18 km (315.77 mi) Under Construction 2028 [25]
Mumbai–Nagpur 320 km/h (200 mph) 736 km (457 mi) DPR under preparation 2051 [37]
Mumbai–Hyderabad 350 km/h (220 mph) 711 km (442 mi) DPR under preparation 2051 [40]
Pune–Nashik 200 km/h (120 mph) 235.15 km (146.12 mi) Approved 2027 [41]
Ahmedabad–Rajkot 220 km/h (140 mph) 225 km (140 mi) DPR Prepared TBD [42]
Nagpur-Varanasi 320 km/h (200 mph) 855 km (531 mi) Proposed 2041 [37]
Chennai–Mysuru 320 km/h (200 mph) 435 km (270 mi) DPR under preparation 2031 [37]
Hyderabad–Bengaluru 320 km/h (200 mph) 618 km (384 mi) Proposed 2041 [37]
Thiruvananthapuram–Kasaragod 200 km/h (120 mph) 529.45 km (328.98 mi) DPR Prepared TBD [43]


Diamond Quadrilateral
Proposed routes for Diamond Quadrilateral

In 2014, the Diamond Quadrilateral high-speed rail network project was launched by Government of India and is envisioned to connect the four major metro cities of India namely: Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.[44][45]

Diamond Quadrilateral
Corridor Speed Length Status Year
Delhi–Kolkata 320 km/h (200 mph) 1,576 km (979 mi) DPR under preparation 2031
Kolkata–Chennai 320 km/h (200 mph) 1,500 km (930 mi) TBD TBD [note 1]
Mumbai–Chennai 320 km/h (200 mph) 1,200 km (750 mi) TBD TBD [note 2]
Delhi–Mumbai 320 km/h (200 mph) 1,394 km (866 mi) Under construction 2031
Delhi–Chennai 320 km/h (200 mph) 1,900 km (1,200 mi) TBD TBD [note 3]
Mumbai–Kolkata 320 km/h (200 mph) 1,800 km (1,100 mi) TBD TBD [note 4]
Super high-speed rail

In 2016, Indian Railways explored the possibility of maglev trains to implement an over-500-kilometre-per-hour (310 mph) speed rail system.[46][47] In February 2019, a train model based upon the same was unveiled by Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology capable of speeds of up to 600 km/h (370 mph).[48] In September 2020, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited signed a pact with SwissRapide AG for the implementation of MagLev metro systems in India.[49]

While there are no operational hyperloop systems in the world, testing has been done and a few routes have been proposed.[50] Hyperloop One submitted a detailed project report in January 2018 for Mumbai to Pune.[51] Virgin Hyperloop signed a MoU with Government of Punjab in 2019 for building a rail to cover total 226 km (140 mi) distance between Amritsar and Chandigarh.[52] Hyperloop One signed a MoU with Government of Karnataka to conduct a feasibility study on the Bengaluru-Chennai route in 2017.[53] Zeleros proposed a vision for a hyperloop network in India by 2050, connecting main cities.[54]

Semi-high speed rail[edit]

A 174 km (108 mi) segment of track in the TughlakabadAgra Cantonment section supports semi-high speeds of up to 160 km/h (99 mph).[55][56] As of 2023, the maximum operational speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) is achieved by Gatimaan Express and Vande Bharat Express on the above section.[57][58]

Track upgrades

In 2009, Indian Railways envisioned a plan to increase the speed of passenger trains to 160–200 km/h (99–124 mph) on dedicated conventional tracks and improve the existing conventional lines on 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Broad gauge to handle speeds of up to 160 km/h (99 mph).[18] Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India has built dedicated freight corridors across India to divert cargo traffic from the passenger railway tracks, thus helping increase the operational speed of the passenger trains to 160 km/h (99 mph).[59]

Track upgrades
Route Speed Length Year Status Reference
TughlakabadAgra 160 km/h (99 mph) 174 km (108 mi) 2016 Operational [60]
Delhi–Mumbai 160 km/h (99 mph) 1,384 km (860 mi) 2024 Under upgradation [61]
New Delhi–Howrah 160 km/h (99 mph) 1,446 km (899 mi) TBD Approved [62]
ChennaiGudur 160 km/h (99 mph) 134.3 km (83.5 mi) TBD DPR submitted [63]
ChennaiRenigunta 160 km/h (99 mph) 134.78 km (83.75 mi) TBD DPR submitted [63]
Mumbai–Howrah 160 km/h (99 mph) 1,965 km (1,221 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
Mumbai–Chennai 160 km/h (99 mph) 1,276 km (793 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
Chennai–Howrah 160 km/h (99 mph) 1,652 km (1,027 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
BangaloreChennai 160 km/h (99 mph) 362 km (225 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
Chennai–New Delhi 160 km/h (99 mph) 2,164 km (1,345 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
BengaluruHyderabad 160 km/h (99 mph) 632 km (393 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
ChennaiHyderabad 160 km/h (99 mph) 715 km (444 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
HowrahPuri 160 km/h (99 mph) 502 km (312 mi) TBD DPR submitted [64]
New tracks

RapidX system operating on 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) Standard gauge tracks and capable of supporting speeds of up to 180 km/h (110 mph), became operational with the partial opening of Delhi–Meerut line in 2023.[65]

New semi-high-speed tracks
Route Speed Length Status Reference
Delhi–Meerut 180 km/h (110 mph) 82 km (51 mi) Partially operational [66]
Delhi–Alwar 180 km/h (110 mph) 164 km (102 mi) Under construction [67]
Delhi–Panipat 180 km/h (110 mph) 103 km (64 mi) Approved [67]
DelhiRohtak 180 km/h (110 mph) 70 km (43 mi) Proposed [68]
DelhiPalwal 180 km/h (110 mph) 60 km (37 mi) Proposed [68]
DelhiBaraut 180 km/h (110 mph) 54 km (34 mi) Proposed [68]
GhaziabadKhurja 180 km/h (110 mph) 83 km (52 mi) Proposed [68]
GhaziabadHapur 180 km/h (110 mph) 57 km (35 mi) Proposed [68]
DelhiJewar 180 km/h (110 mph) 67 km (42 mi) Proposed [68]
HyderabadWarangal 180 km/h (110 mph) 146 km (91 mi) Proposed [69]
HyderabadVijayawada 180 km/h (110 mph) 281 km (175 mi) Proposed [69]

Rolling stock[edit]

For high-speed rail, the Indian railways will construct bullet train assembly facilities on a public-private participation (PPP) model. As per NHSRCL, Japanese companies will set up manufacturing facilities in India to build the parts for bullet train sets.[70] For semi-high speed rail, Indian Railways had already rolled out Train 18 in 2018. These self-propelled EMU train sets manufactured by Integral Coach Factory are capable of reaching 180 km/h (112 mph).[71] These trains have eight or sixteen coaches with driver cabins on both ends, which eliminates the time needed for turnaround at the terminal station with faster acceleration and deceleration, enabling the train to travel at a top speed for longer distance.[72][73]

Rolling stock
Name Image Origin Manufacturer Trainsets Lines Type Gauge size Gauge type Traction Max speed (kph) Status Year
Potential Operational
Semi-high-speed
Vande Bharat (first generation) India ICF 2 1 EMU 1676mm Broad-gauge Electric 180[74][75] 130[76] In service 2019
Vande Bharat (second generation) India ICF 43 41 EMU 1676mm Broad-gauge Electric 180 160 In service 2022
Namo Bharat India Alstom 210 1 EMU 1435mm Standard-gauge Electric 180 160 In service 2023
Amrit Bharat India ICF 2 2 Push–pull train 1676mm Broad-gauge Electric 160 130 In service 2023
High-speed
E5 Series Shinkansen Japan Hitachi Rail &
Kawasaki
None (12 planned) None (12 planned) EMU 1435mm Standard-gauge Electric (25 kV 50 Hz AC) 320 N/A Planned 2028–29

Construction[edit]

A prefabricated section of elevated track installed by a mega carrier and launcher in China in 2010

Mega carrier and launcher machines or transporter, gantry, and full span launcher machines are machines used to construct viaducts (elevated structures) for bullet train corridors in China. These vehicles carry an entire girder by traveling on an already launched girder to place the next girder. The speed was several times faster than India's existent girder launching mechanism with the Chinese machine laying two girders a day on average compared to one and a half girders in a week by the existent Indian machine.[77] NHSRCL asked L&T which is currently constructing the 325 km (202 mi) stretch of Mumbai-Ahmedabad line to build such machines. The machine costs around 70 crore (US$8.8 million) and 30 such machines are required to construct the 237 km (147 mi) elevated stretch.[77] On 9 September 2021, India joined four other countries, to possess Full Span Launching Methodology (FSLM) technology after L&T was able to develop the machine successfully. NHSRCL planned to acquire 20 such machines initially for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project in order to speed up construction. These machines can be further re-used to build viaducts for elevated roads and rapid transit systems across India.[78][79]

Research[edit]

National Academy of Indian Railways, Vadodara was established in 2018 with the aim of developing indigenously high-speed train manufacturing technology.[80][81][82] Other institutions focused on Railway technology research and development are: IIT BHU Malviya Centre for Railway Technology, IIT Kharagpur Centre for Railways Research and Research Design and Standards Organization (RDSO).

Records[edit]

Year Class Type Speed[4] Image
1947 WP class Steam 100 km/h (62 mph)
1969 WDM-4 Diesel 120 km/h (75 mph)
1971 130 km/h (81 mph)
2003 WDP-4 180 km/h (110 mph)
1971 WAM-2/3 Electric 140 km/h (87 mph)
1982 WAM-4B 145 km/h (90 mph)
1988 WAP-1 160 km/h (99 mph)
1996 WAP-4 169 km/h (105 mph)
1997 WAP-5 184 km/h (114 mph)

Criticism[edit]

The choice of the standard gauge for high-speed rail goes against the Project Unigauge, which aimed to convert all existing tracks to a single gauge.[83] There is also criticism that the 1960s Shinkansen technology might not viably compete with aviation industry, and that India must modernise and expand existing systems.[84]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "This route is not yet planned and it represents the most feasible route for Diamond Quadrilateral high-speed rail line between these two metro cities.
  2. ^ "The Mumbai–Chennai route is not planned yet. This route represents the most feasible route for Mumbai-Chennai section of Diamond Quadrilateral high-speed rail line. Although a section of this potential route between Chennai and Bengaluru has been planned to be operational by 2051.
  3. ^ "This route is not planned yet and it represents the most feasible route for Delhi-Bengaluru section of Diamond Quadrilateral high-speed rail line. However, one section of this potential route between Hyderabad and Bengaluru is planned to be operational by 2041.
  4. ^ "This route beyond Nagpur is not planned yet and it represents the most feasible route for Mumbai–Kolkata section of Diamond Quadrilateral high-speed rail line. However, the Mumbai–Nagpur section of this line is planned to be operational by 2051.

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