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Lecture Discussion on ‘Hidden Story Behind China’s Railway Success: Takeaways for India&

C3S Event Report No: 016/2019

The Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) organized a Lecture-Discussion led by Mr. Pratosh Menon, a student of Class XII, Global Indian International School, Singapore; Intern, C3S on the ‘Hidden Story Behind China’s Railway Success: Takeaways for India’. The event held at Chennai Centre for China Studies was chaired by Mr. Rajaram Muthukrishnan, Investor and Director, Voice Snap Services Pvt. Ltd; Member C3S and graced with the presence of Mr. Ram Mohan, Senior Former Member Indian Railway Board.

The lecture was based on a presentation by Mr. Pratosh Menon, providing insight on the less developed status of 22 million people living in China and the manner in which China has subsidized high-speed railway system. Within a span of time, China has been able to develop its rural regions through the advancement of non-conventional train services.

The presentation highlighted China’s investment of $ 26 billion little above India’s $ 23 billion investment, yet in the last 20 years, China has surpassed India in terms of the average speed of trains. For instance, Indian trains averaged 50.6 km/hr whereas Chinese trains clocked average speed of about 92.8 km/hr. Despite similar funding, Chinese passenger trains have become faster than Indian trains due to reforms in 4 key areas:

  1. Signaling reform

  2. Track maintenance

  3. Revamp of train scheduling

  4. Freight traffic on the railways

While India still relies on traditional modes of signaling. China has installed a relatively new China Train Control System (CTCS) across the national railway network. It was influenced by an adaptation of European Train Control Systems, thereby a lesson which India can learn from China. The speaker explained the possibility of the usage of CTCS in India, that could reduce the duration from the current 10 minutes to 30 seconds, increasing trunk line capacity by 30%.

In the second area of reform, India focused more on LHB coach production in its drive for speed over track maintenance, enhancing operational speeds from 110 km/h to 130 km/h. However, this seems inefficient because less than 2500 km of track is renewed every year and less than 8% of total running track in India supports speeds in excess of 110 km/h. Here, the speaker depicted the way China has focused more on track maintenance and renewal over coach production. The policy prescription for India would be redirecting LHB coach funding to fund track renewal.

China re-categorized trains and ensured only 3 categories of long-distance trains plied on tracks such as K, T, and Z Category to exist. When compared to Z category trains, K trains were much slower in speed, thereby highlighting many similarities with India.

A case study approach was used by the speaker to explain “Revamp of train scheduling”, with a comparison between Guangzhou – Changsha, and Chennai – Vijayawada. It revealed China covered a maximum distance in less duration by skipping rural towns as stops, leading to an increase in passenger services by slower and making halts at every station. Mr. Rammohan suggested the role of social necessities and political contingencies in Indian Railways that make the task more difficult. The valuable lesson for India is to recreate and reschedule trains like Chinese Railways System. Recategorization of trains similar to what is followed in China (ideally into 3 or 4 categories) is the need of the hour:

  1. Faster trains depart from origin stations in the evening within a few minutes of each other in blocks

  2. Slower trains depart from origin stations late night to early afternoon

If both the above pointers are taken into consideration, the efficiency of Indian Railways will increase.

Mr. Rajaram Muthukrishnan raised the question of High Speed-Rail (HSR) and its readiness. The speaker emphasized the $16 billion being spent on Mumbai-Ahemdabad HSR, could be redirected towards developing the existing infrastructure.  Mr.Rammohan added this could help develop and complete both the dedicated Eastern and Western Dedicated Railway Corridor and pointed out the burgeoning cost of HSR tracks and maintenance.

Nevertheless, there are various benefits of developing the existing corridor:

  1. Increased urbanization and development of tier 2 & tier 3 cities

  2. It reduces migration and inflow in already overpopulated cities

  3. It benefits the poor by saving time and wages.

The speaker demonstrated the effect of Freight Traffic Management in India vis-à-vis China. In comparison, Beijing has 2.7 billion tonne-kilometers transporting 8% of total freight movement by rail whereas New Delhi possesses 0.62 billion tonne-kilometers and transports 30% of the total freight movement by rail. Currently, the benefit of constructing the Western and Eastern Dedicated freight corridors in India– a step in the right direction was pointed out.

Cmde. R.S.Vasan IN (Retd.), Director, C3S, spoke on recent trends affecting the growth of railways with the development of other means of transportation such as the development of Inland Waterways, Coastal Shipping Lines, Roll on – Roll off (RO-RO) services to name a few.

In reply to the speaker’s narrative on freight management, Mr.Ram Mohan adduced the reasons behind lacunas in trend explicitly such as the commercial capacity and freight charges in India based on the nature of the political system and the social obligations attached to it.

Mr.Rajaram Muthukrishnan opined India fared better in the “Heinrich’s triangle” when compared to other countries worldwide and highlighted the beneficial impact on India of new investments in technology carrying spin-off developments.

Mr.Sathyanarayanan briefed on India’s position at the global level and the demand of the railway coaches which it manufactures. Mr. Rammohan cited the high demand of Indian coaches in countries like Malaysia and many African nations. In numbers, while China produces annually around 2600 coaches, India produces a record 4400 coaches and has set an ambitious target of 5500 coaches per year.

In conclusion, Mr.Pratosh Menon suggested key takeaways for India:

  1. Investments in port infrastructure along the East Coast of India in a bid to move all freight traffic from the rails to ships.

  2. Shifting all freight traffic from rails onto trucks on all other routes, since 42% of total freight traffic is sparsely distributed.

Despite its high capital expenditure, long gestation period and social obligations, India has to prioritise its needs and rationalise its expenditure. By moving away from political obligations and the use of technologies like the satellite tracking, India can reform its existing railway system.

The event was concluded with a vote of thanks by Cmde. R.S.Vasan IN (Retd.), Director, C3S.

(Compiled by Balasubramanian, Research Officer, C3S)

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