- Revisiting the Rail Gauge Debate
- The Unstoppable ‘Udaan’ of India’s Civil Aviation
In India, the primary railway network operates on Broad Gauge (BG), with a width of 1.676 meters. However, specific projects, such as the rapid rail transport in Delhi, the high-speed line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and several metro rail systems in different parts of the country, are adopting Standard Gauge (SG) with a width of 1.435 meters.
GS3- Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
Discussing the evolution of standard gauge in Indian railways, analyse the need for reassessment of the railway system in terms of integration of Broad gauge. (15 marks, 250 words).
- The gauge debate originated in the 1870s when the British introduced the Metre Gauge of 1,000 mm in India, later transitioning to BG in 1853.
- In the 1990s, a uni-gauge policy was implemented, leading to the conversion of most routes to BG.
- However, SG gained traction in the metro rail networks, particularly following a resolution allowing individual State governments to decide on the gauge choice based on recommendations from empowered Ministers.
- E. Sreedharan, then Managing Director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, played a significant role in advocating for SG.
- Despite this, subsequent projects failed to thoroughly analyze the technical and economic aspects of the SG versus BG debate or the advantages of integrating new rail systems with existing networks.
Advantages of SG:
- Proponents of SG argue its universality, citing that many global metro and high-speed rail systems in the last few decades use SG, implying they can function independently without integration with mainline railways.
- However, the reality is more intricate, as several metro rail systems worldwide operate on different gauges.
- Advocates for SG claim it requires less space, both physically on the road and in the aerial structures for elevated portions.
- They also argue for the availability of advanced technology in coach design, assuming it is more prevalent in developed countries.
- However, this argument is countered by India’s capacity to design and manufacture its semi-high-speed trains.
Advantages of BG:
The cost argument favors BG, suggesting that despite a slightly higher cost for underground networks, the BG system can offer around 10% lower cost per unit capacity due to the ability to design wider coaches.
Disadvantages of BG:
- Arguments against BG, such as a higher turning radius affecting speed and throughput, are deemed weak.
- The impact of turning radius on commuting time is considered negligible, and throughput is argued to be similar between BG and SG systems.
Disadvantages of SG:
While proponents of SG argue for the availability of advanced technology in coach design, assuming it is more prevalent in developed countries, this argument is countered by India’s capacity to design and manufacture its semi-high-speed trains.
The critical aspect often overlooked is the integration of new rail networks with existing ones, which carry billions of passengers and millions of tonnes of freight annually. Integrating new rail systems with the extensive existing network is seen as advantageous for seamless passenger and cargo movement, improved patronage, and flexibility in emergencies. Considering these factors, it is suggested that the government reassesses the issue and considers adopting BG for all future rail systems.
According to an aviation report, the domestic aviation sector experienced a substantial monthly growth rate of 23.13% in August 2023, with domestic passenger numbers soaring to 148.27 lakh. This positive trend in passenger growth indicates the industry’s resilience and recovery from the challenges posed by the global pandemic.
- GS2- Government Policies and Interventions for Development
- GS3- Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.
The Indian civil aviation sector is on its way to become the stronghold of transportation in India. Comment. (10 marks, 150 words).
Growth of the Indian aviation sector:
- Domestic airlines carried 1,190.62 lakh passengers from January to August 2023, marking a remarkable increase of 38.27% compared to the same period last year.
- Notably, the cancellation rate for August 2023 was an insignificant 0.65%.
- Throughout August 2023, scheduled domestic airlines registered a total of 288 passenger-related complaints, translating to a complaint rate of about 0.23 complaints per 10,000 passengers.
- This notably low complaint and cancellation rate underscore the industry’s commitment to prioritizing customer satisfaction and delivering dependable and efficient services to passengers.
- Commending the aviation sector’s growth, Union Civil Aviation Minister attributed this sustained expansion to the collective efforts of airlines, airports, and the Ministry of Civil Aviation in promoting safe, efficient, and customer-centric aviation.
- As of now, India stands as the world’s third-largest domestic civil aviation market, trailing behind China and the US.
- The number of domestic passengers has doubled from 60 million in 2014 to approximately 145 million, accompanied by a significant rise in international air passengers from 23 million to over 35 million.
- Beyond this, the aviation sector’s growth is generating employment and business opportunities in small towns across the country.
Government initiatives in this regard:
- The “UDAN Scheme” has played a crucial role in democratizing India’s civil aviation, introducing numerous first-time fliers.
- Following the success of the UDAN Scheme’s first five years since its launch on April 27, 2017, the Ministry has initiated the 5th round of the Regional Connectivity Scheme – UDAN.
- This initiative aims to further enhance connectivity in remote and regional areas, achieving last-mile connectivity.
- UDAN has substantially increased regional air connectivity, expanding from 74 operational airports in 2014 to 141, with 68 underserved destinations added under the scheme.
- Under UDAN, the goal is to provide air connectivity to unconnected destinations with 1000 routes to 220 destinations by 2026. With 954 routes already allocated to connect 156 airports, over one crore passengers have benefited from the scheme.
The government anticipates welcoming 40 crore passengers through civil aviation in the next 3-4 years. UDAN 5.0, the latest version of the scheme, introduces attractive features, focusing on Category-2 (20-80 seats) and Category-3 (less than 80 seats), removing the 600 km length limit in the first phase and eliminating restrictions on the flight’s distance between origin and destination. This development signals the potential for civil aviation to become a robust mode of transportation in India alongside rail and road transport.