I sometimes joke, “Necessity is the mother of Invention – but Frustration is the father of Invention.” Unless you are really frustrated of your necessity, an invention isn’t born.
In a sad case I am discussing here, both parents and the child are here since more than a hundred years. That is, India’s need of fast, cheap, reliable, large scale yet convenient long distance public transport.
You’d say Indian Railways is the answer. Wrong! Indian Railways has a lot of insurmountable challenges.
- Indian Railways is unionized. Unions are about protection of jobs of employees and not advancing technology or business. Unions are so powerful that no railway station of India has working elevators – so that labor can charge ransom-like money from senior citizens, people with disabilities and/or children. Indian Railways accident reports are never published for media scrutiny. Parcels arrive broken, if at all. Platform tickets are sold in the most inconvenient way —- the list is endless
- Indian Railways takes a pride in being the largest employer of the world rather than the best (or even the biggest) service provider of the world
- Indian Railways belong to Government of India. Government, for political reasons, don’t want to run it efficiently – keep generating jobs, keep ticket prices artificially depressed, keep increasing capacity on economically dead but high population density areas etc. Since a few decades, no Union Railway Minister came from smaller, more industrial states – and that tells a lot
- Land acquisition in India is becoming politically increasingly contentious – Railways need land
- Indian Railways is one of the biggest consumer of Diesel oil. For variety of muddy reasons, it never declared an intention of complete electrification – or a complete move to methane or other cleaner, indigenous fuels
- … Leave it. There is too much negative to talk about this relic of British Raj
- Freight cars (called goods bogies) are always in short supply. Road transport yields 50 kmph average on National Highways and it gets exponentially worse as you travel inside
- Above all, in this vast country of 2500*2300 kms, trains can’t travel faster than 120 kmph due to track limitations. Travel of 1800 kms takes 36 hours – that is 50 kmph!
Traditional air travel isn’t answer for population. India hardly has 3 airports per state. Road transport links to smaller towns suck. Petroleum, especially the ATF, is constantly taxed so high, air travel is limited to a blessed few millions. I can’t afford to take my family to my home town through air every year.
For a long time need for a city-to-city, faster than train, cheaper than planes for masses is going to remain.
India is growing. Indian population is growing. Indian economy is growing. Indian economy inclusion is growing. Indian purchasing power is growing. Indian aspirations are growing.
Government of the US is about to sell its huge collection of Helium. They had stockpiled it for H bombs, I guess.
Helium, the second most abundant element in the universe, is light and inert. That means it is very difficult to get Helium on the surface of earth.
Helium can be used for age old airships. Airships travel at 250 kmph! That is, 5 times faster than trains! Between Bangalore and Surat, two fastest growing cities of India, it takes 30 hours today through train. It may take just 6 hours!
It will be cleaner, greener, faster, more convenient, less politicized, more dignified, healthier … than to travel in a train.
At least someone should try this for transporting! A caravan of containers traveling at 250 kmph above in air is much easier than never complete Golden Quadrilateral!