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“India will need multiple bullet train corridors”

“India will need multiple bullet train corridors”

Mangal Dev, Head of Hitachi Rail Systems Co., India & South Asia Region affirms that the time is ripe for the development of a network of bullet train projects in the country. Speaking to INFRASTRUCTURE TODAY, Dev feels bullet train stations can easily be expanded into self-sustaining smart cities. Although there is no official confirmation from the company at this stage, Hitachi is reportedly in talks to identify an Indian partner to manufacture rolling stock for bullet trains.

How was the last financial year as far as HitachiÂ’s engagement with one of the biggest rail transport systems in the world is concerned?
In terms of fiscal 2017–18, Hitachi implemented the dedicated freight corridor (DFC) where we have two projects of automatic block signalling and the European Train Control System (ETCS), which is the level one project between Rewari and Vadodara to Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT). This project at JNPT is a project of enormous national importance and is being monitored by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) through the multi-modal information and communications technology (ICT)-based platform PRAGATI. We were quite successful in completing the design activities for the project by utilising our engineering division. We also were able to install the electronic interlocking system at Shri Madhopur station, which was a big achievement, as it involved a series of approvals internally as also by the customer and the customer’s engineer. In addition, the Hitachi’s group company, AnsaldoSTS successfully commissioned the Tundla Central Traffic Control Centre on the heavily-congested Delhi–Howrah corridor. In addition to that, Ansaldo STS is also involved in the modernisation of electronic interlocking using made in India, European technology in Kharagpur, which is one of the longest railway platforms and the biggest railway yards in the country.

The Railways undertook one of the most ambitious exercises in its 161-year history when it has started a major revamp in 2014. From HitachiÂ’s perspective, how have things panned out in the last four year?
Hitachi has been closely following the ambitious revamp by the Indian Railways. One of the objectives of the Railways is to segregate freight operations from the present mixed movement through the implementation of DFC. That would mean that the freight trains will help increase the speed of both freight as well as passenger trains. This is of much interest to Hitachi as it implies not only the construction of DFCs but also the upgrading of the existing corridors with new signalling systems, because to increase the train speed, the system has to match those new operational requirements. In 2015, Hitachi won the contract for DFC for the supply of signalling and telecommunication systems.

In terms of the Indian RailwaysÂ’ Mission Raftar, we were involved in the commissioning of the first high speed corridor between Delhi and Agra for the Gatimaan Express. Hitachi also participated in the train set tenders issued by the Railway Board. The Indian Railways has clearly announced its intent to embrace ICT to digitalise and consolidate all data on one platform for analysis to ensure operational efficiency. Since Hitachi has the experience of nearly 100 year in operations technology and another 50 plus year in ICT, we could add more value to the modernisation efforts by the Indian Railways.

Even in your previous interactions with the magazine, you have been emphatic on the need for the Railways to maximise the use of ICT to achieve system integration. How can the public-sector transporter implement that?
The Indian Railways has 17 zonal railways, which are further split into divisions. While it is the jurisdiction of a zone to operate in an integrated manner, each of these divisions has different departments taking care of site, power, traction, rolling stock, and signalling and telecom infrastructure. And, while they might be optimally efficient in their individual areas, the railway system needs an overall merger. The Railways needs to integrate all the systems together so as to maximise the throughput with safety, energy efficiency, and other associated parameters. The Indian Railways has been trying to achieve these using conventional tools. But what it needs basically is to use the ICT to first understand the interdependency between systems and subsystems, and then endeavour to build a railway model using stimulation tools for operations, investments, and decision-making. This is a vast area and is generally not attempted on such a large scale because it can be very time-consuming. But if the systems do not function optimally as one complete whole, the Railways will have a lot to lose in terms of operational efficiency since substantial investment is being made on the ground.

The Railways addressed this concern when it launched the Indian Railways One Information and Communication Technology (IR-OneICT) digital platform so that the details can be appropriately analysed. But, we feel it needs to be given precedence again as it has moved down in priority over time. Integration is very important right from the level of train and signalling controllers to members of the Railway Board, who will be able to view the entire operation of the Railways in one snapshot.

There is so much of buzz around the subject of bullet trains and work is already underway on the Mumbai–Ahmedabad corridor. In Hitachi’s view, is India ready for that kind of high speed mobility?
Globally, high speed rail has become a norm. Hitachi has been involved in high speed railway right from the 1960s. With our acquisition of AnsaldoBreda and a part of AnsaldoSTS, we are also able to offer the European expertise in high speed. Globally, rail transportation has become faster and of higher capacity, as it has minimal CO2 footprint. The railway is the most efficient mode of transport in terms of time and energy consumed. Since we are a vast country, it is the aspiration of every Indian to travel in a fast, yet safe mode of transport. Moreover, setting up a railway system takes up a very small amount of land footprint. Therefore, we think that India is quite ready to welcome the bullet train. A beginning was made some year ago when the first feasibility studies were conducted by the Indian Railways and six corridors were identified for connecting the biggest metros together with high speed railway. However, building a high speed track requires time, planning, and substantial financial support. It is a welcome development that the government has moved ahead with its plan for the Mumbai–Ahmedabad bullet train project. But just putting one corridor may not be enough as it will not be able to deliver the same benefits of high speed rail that we see in Japan or in Europe. Multiple high speed corridors that are well-integrated with the airport, metro rail, road, and maritime transport systems of a city are required. All stations along a high speed track can be developed into self-sustaining smart cities. They can become epicentres of commercial, educational, or recreational activity, as has happened in other parts of the world. That will also help in a fast-paced creation of urban centres.

Any good examples of urban centres that developed with the launch of bullet trains?
In Japan, the Tokyo megacity is a cluster of several cities. Therefore, every station in Tokyo is a smart city in itself. Places where high speed trains halt, have developed into townships that are well-connected to other modes of transport. Another specialty of the system is that the same ticket can be used on different modes of public transport.

There are reports of your mulling a tie-up with Bharat Earth Movers (BEML) for manufacturing rolling stock for bullet trains.
Hitachi is keen to introduce the latest Japanese technology for rolling stock, be it for metro rail, railway, or high speed bullet trains. We have factories for manufacturing rolling stock in Japan and Italy. We have also commissioned our latest state-of-art facility in the UK. We believe that to be able to meet the expectation of our customers in India, we should be able to manufacture locally. We intend to invest here in steps since we believe that it is a much better approach to understanding and fulfilling customer expectations. Therefore, we are always on the lookout for local partners who can work with Hitachi to meet the end-customer requirement as well as to fulfil our obligation to the Make in India programme.

– Manish Pant

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