Diego Diaz, Director International, SNCF, outlines the French passenger and freight transportation major´s plans for the railway segment in India. Among other things, the company also proposes to establish incubation centres here to redefine the face of mobility.
What are the new areas of cooperation between SNCF and the Indian Railways?
At the moment, we have two new projects. We are working on a project on semi-high speed train to improve the travel time between Delhi and Chandigarh. This involves our recommending ways to reduce the trip to two hours instead of the present four. We are also cooperating on stations. Stations are living spaces and not just places where people come and go. India has identified 400 stations for the purpose and we are already working on two. We will hopefully be getting to work on more.
What are the areas where you are already providing your expertise?
We have also completed a study on the proposed high-speed train service on the Delhi-Ahmedabad corridor. It has been an interesting experience as India presents a different set of challenges. The country is much bigger and requirements are very different than in France. So we are trying to develop models that are specific to India.
Earlier, infrastructure projects such as railways were considered a government responsibility globally. With some change in that mindset, how can an operator ensure profitability of such projects?
It´s a complex question. For a country, the railway is also a public service as not all lines are the same. You might want to have lines to remote areas in a bid to improve connectivity. But those lines will need to be heavily subsidised. So the subsidy, in a sense, is part of the economic equation. But when you move between cities, say from a city like Paris to Lyon that already have a lot of businesses and other integration, the line will not require a subsidy as a high density and demand already exists.
As a public utility, public transport cannot always be a profitable venture. So you need to have some kind of state subsidies in place.
What we do though, we make sure to run it like a business. We look at ways to improve efficiencies. For instance, we have now initiated a drive using the Internet of Things to put sensors in trains to ensure improved maintenance, so that we can anticipate a problem long before a breakdown actually occurs. The benefit is that the train will last longer and there is less interruption caused to traffic.
What is your involvement in Metro railway transport projects in India?
At SNCF we do long distance trains, regional trains, tramways as also Metros. We even do car-pooling and bus transport. We operate trains not only in France, but also Germany, Italy and the UK. Our subsidiary Keolis is already active in India. Most Metro projects here are being managed by public operators. We add value through project management, expertise sharing and implementation of new systems.
You recently spoke about introducing incubators in India. Would you like to elaborate on that?
It is an idea that came up because India is a land of innovation. You have many people relying on Indian companies for their IT-related requirements. Similarly, you also have entrepreneurs working in several other areas. We see the need to help people who want improved mobility. SNCF provides internal as well as external innovation. We created these incubators in France to bring together entrepreneurs, universities and our technical experts who push projects in order to redefine the face of mobility. We just opened one in Silicon Valley. The partnership between India and France is also going to be further strengthened by students and entrepreneurs who are going to create the future of mobility. I have, therefore, put this proposal for joint incubators on the table for discussion.