Image: Russian train – courtesy New Eastern Outlook
By Charles F. Moreira, Editor
India’s Ministry of Railways and Russian Railways signed a preliminary agreement to significantly expand cooperation between India’s and Russia’s railway specialists during the Russia – India Business Forum in New Delhi in October 2018, political observer Dmitry Bokarev wrote in New Eastern Outlook of 1 November 2018.
With this preliminary agreement, Russian Railways’ specialists will become part of the unified control centre for multi-modal goods transport, and will develop management and safety systems for the centre. The agreement also provides for closer cooperation between Russia’s and India’s universities in order to train future specialists in railway technologies.
During the same forum, Alexander Misharin, Russian Railways’ First Deputy Chief Executive Officer for the development of high-speed trains, announced Russia’s and India’s plan to establish a joint rail freight company, which will use Russia’s rail network to substantially increase the transport of goods from India to Europe and vice versa.
This company, which is expected to be established by the end of 2018, will be part of the ongoing expansion of the International North–South Transport Corridor, which connects India, Iran and Russia along a number of different transport routes and may, in the future, be extended to Northern Europe, and this joint company will significantly ease transport and increase traffic volume both ways along the Corridor, with the hope that it will become one of the vital transport arteries of the Eurasian land mass.
This Russian-Indian railway partnership is expected to not only benefit both India and Russia but to also promote development of the whole Eurasian region, to have a positive impact on the prosperity of South Asia and to promote the transport and economic integration of all nations in Eurasia.
Backbone of India’s economy
India’s national railway network covers 66,000 km, making it the third most-extensive railway network in the world.
Railway transport is crucial to India’s economy, with the network carrying around 30 million people each day.
Besides that, India ranks fourth worldwide in terms of volume of cargo carried by its railway, upon which almost all sectors of India’s economy being dependent on railway transport.
For instance, coal is one of the most important cargo-types carried by rail, since about 50% of India’s electricity is generated by coal-fired generating stations.
So, India is keen, not only to develop its domestic railway network but also to develop railway connections with other countries.
India and the former Soviet Union and now Russia, have long collaborated on science and technology projects. India has been a regular purchaser of Russian armaments and both countries have collaborated on joint military projects. India has also shown interest in Russia’s railway technologies, whilst Russian Railways regards India as its most promising partners in Asia.
To meet its contemporary needs, India not only has to add new railway lines but also has to equip them with new technologies to increase the speed of its trains, so it’s largely relying on Russian help.
In line with India’s Make in India campaign, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2014, the development, extension and modernisation of India’s railway network is one of the campaign’s key objectives. For example, 953 km of new rail track were laid in 2016-2017.
Discussions on a possible partnership between Russia and India began in 2015. Russian Railways offered to help India with the creation of high-speed routes and provide it with the latest technology to improve transport safety on India’s rail network, including the use of a GPS-based monitoring system.
During Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia in December 2015, Russian Railways and India’s Ministry of Railways signed a preliminary agreement on technological cooperation in relation to the railway sector. Among the goals specified in that agreement were the modernisation of India’s railways in order to increase average train speed from the current 160 km per hour to 200 km per hour, as well as to introduce digital and satellite technologies to ensure safety of travel.
At the BRICS summit in October 2016, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa agreed to start work on an investment feasibility study for a project to modernise the railway line between the Indian cities of Nagpur and Secunderabad.
The Russian and Indian railway engineers were tasked with increasing the speed of passenger trains along this 581 km long route to 200 km per hour.
The upgrade work will involve a wide range of different jobs, including strengthening the underlying ground, relaying the track and replacing the analogue radio connection with a digital one.
The upgrade of the Nagpur – Secunderabad railway is to be a trial project and is the first time Russian technologies have been used by the Indian railway network. If it is successful, Russian Railways will start working on other sections of India’s railway system.
At the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2017, Russian Railways and their Indian partners signed a cooperation agreement on the feasibility study for a new project, which started in September 2017 and is expected to be completed in August 2019.
In December 2017, Russian specialists visited India, and inspected the Nagpur – Secunderabad line. They identified a number of problems related to electricity supply, as well as other issues which will need to be rectified during the scheduled works.