7/08/2010

India's railroads failing to keep up with growth

and in the process choking the nation's economy. India has a railroad infrastructure that is very similar in design, equipment, and practices to those of other eastern-Asian and African former-colonies, which is to say a mirror of British practices from the 30's and 40's. Despite being a powerhouse of the global economy and having the second-largest population in the world, India is running what is essentially an overgrown 'third-world' railroad. The loading gauges and tonnages are tiny by American standards and even modest by international standards.

(One quibble with the article - the author comparison of passenger train speeds is rather irrelevant - the Acela hardly counts as high-speed, and it's average speed is closer to 70 or 80 mph, not the 150 that it manages for only a couple short miles in eastern CT. Most countries get by just fine with conventional speed passenger service, and even in nations like France with heavy TGV penetration the vast majority of service is on local and conventional trains - high speed trains are irrelevant to normal passengers' needs.)

An important lesson to remember from India though, is that north-american railroads are expected to see over 40% traffic increases for the next several decades, and will need tens or hundreds of billions in capital investments to meet that demand. They are already at-capacity on all core routes, and can't come close to affording the sort of build-out they will need. For the next decade or so they can get by with incremental improvements to the existing infrastructure - eliminating bottlenecks primarily - but they will eventually need to invest in major build-outs. (Note that this means heavy investment to existing routes, not new routes or reopening old lines - it is far more efficient to upgrade the slimmed-down and vastly more-efficient modern network than to spread themselves thin since the constraints are all on the trunk routes, not the feeder-lines.)

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