Rail Gauge Debate
- October 9, 2023
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN Topics
Rail Gauge Debate
Subject: Science and tech
While the predominant railway network in India is Broad Gauge (BG) with a width of 1.676 meters, the rapid rail transport system in Delhi, the high speed rail line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and more than a score of metro rail systems in parts of the country are coming up on Standard Gauge (SG) of 1.435 m width.
What are Railway Gauges?
- The rail gauge of a railroad track is the minimum clear distance measured between the inside faces of the two rails when they are placed in a straight line.
- A standard gauge is 1,435 mm and is used on about 60% of the railways in the world.
- In India, there are four different kinds of rail gauges. These include the Broad gauge, Metre gauge, Narrow gauge, and Standard gauge.
History of Gauge Debate
- 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.
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.
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.
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.