India getting an eye-wateringly big transport upgrade: Report


new delhi, mar 18: A sense of wonder filled the carriage as the Vande Bharat Express raced through the flatlands of Uttar Pradesh, bound from Varanasi to Delhi, at 130 kph (81 mph). That is a shade faster than the Northeast Regional ferries passengers between New York and Washington--and, by Indian locomotive standards, revolutionary, according to the Economist.
The train covers its 759-km route 130 minutes faster than the next-quickest service. "It's so much more comfortable!" says M Afzal, 42, a cloth dealer from Varanasi heading to Kanpur, an intermediate stop. "But the main thing is the saving of time."
That sentiment is becoming increasingly commonplace in India. Long known for its interminable, rattling train journeys, snarled roads and grotty airports, the country is experiencing an infrastructural makeover on a scale unprecedented outside China.
According to the Economist, it will transform Indians' ability to travel, by rail, road and air; and thus to intermingle and do business. It added that the government of PM Narendra Modi hopes it will remove one of the biggest constraints on the rapid economic growth that India desperately needs in order to meet the aspirations of its young, fast-growing population.
The pace of the buildout is remarkable, the Economist said. The first indigenously designed and built Vande Bharat service was flagged off by Modi in 2019. In the past six months the prime minister, who loves a ribbon-cutting above all things, has inaugurated eight more, including two in Mumbai last month.
His government promises to launch 500 more Vande Bharat services in the next three years; it also has ambitions to export the rapid new trains to other countries, according to the Economist. A genuinely high-speed line--with top speeds greater than that of America's Acela service--is meanwhile being built, with Japanese help, between the financial capital of Mumbai and Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat. It will cut travel time between the two economic hubs to two hours from six, the Economist said.
The Economist said two new "freight corridors", between Mumbai and Delhi and between Punjab and West Bengal, are semi-operational and scheduled to be finished by next year. Another four are on the cards. Their electrified tracks will allow goods to be moved on double-stacked 1-km-long trains at speeds of up to 70 kph--up from a painful 25 kph today. The railways' share of freight traffic has declined in the decade to 2022, even as the overall goods volume has increased. According to the Economist, the government hopes its new corridors will boost railway freight from 27 per cent to 45 per cent by 2030. That would mitigate the country's greenhouse-gas emissions as well as its reliance on imported fuel. By decongesting existing lines, the corridors should also allow passenger trains to move faster.
India is at the same time adding 10,000 kms of highway a year. The length of the rural road network has increased from 381,000 km in 2014, when Modi was elected, to 729,000 km this year, according to the Economist. Over the same period the number of Indian airports has doubled. The prime minister opened an airport in the southern state of Karnataka last month; on March 12 he inaugurated a new highway in the same state, the Economist said.
Modi, backed by state-level leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has pushed new infrastructure across the board. India's electricity-generation capacity has grown by 22 per cent and renewable-energy capacity has nearly doubled in the five years to 2022. Broadband connections have jumped from 61 million before Modi took over to 816 million last year. A mobile-based payment system launched in 2016 accounts for over half of digital transactions, the Economist said.
Yet the infrastructure push is mainly focused on transport, which the Modi administration considers the key to India's past failings and its likeliest guarantor of future success. It trusts new roads and railways will help fulfil its ambition to turn India into a USD 5-trillion economy by 2025-26--up from USD 3.5 trillion today, according to the Economist.

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