BEIJING, November 18, 2010—Collectively India Railways and China Railways employ nearly 4 million employees, operate tens of thousands of kilometers of railways, and can move millions of people each day. Arguably, the two railways drive the economies of the two most populated countries of the world; two railways serving one out of three people on this planet.
On October 24th an eight-member government delegation from India arrived in China, sponsored by the World Bank's South to South Experience Exchange Trust Fund, to meet with counterparts at the China Ministry of Railways with the aim of learning from each other. The visitors from India included managers, economists, financiers, and engineers.
Although the railways in China and India are already among the largest in the world, both governments are aggressively promoting the expansion and modernization of the respective railways. Why? Because the governments of each believe that railways play a critical role in the economic growth of these continental size developing countries and do so with reduced environmental impact and resource consumption.
Sharing experience and knowledge with another country facing similar challenges and resolving them in sometimes different ways stimulates innovation and energizes change. As an active financer and promoter of the development of railways in both China and India, the World Bank is well positioned to convene an authoritative exchange of knowledge using the mechanism of the South-South Experience Exchange Trust Fund, which is particularly suited to such challenges.
Issues covered during weeklong discussions
The Indian delegation began by studying the process followed in China for long term planning and financing of the rail sector, development of specific projects, and engineering design and construction. China's medium and long term plan for railways aims to expand its railway network between 2005 and 2020, from 65,000 route-km to 120,000 route km. As India is also planning for a significant expansion of its rail network, this opening topic sparked a lively discussion and debate.
From there the discussions ranged from the planning of China's high speed network, to technologies employed, implementation arrangements and quality control. With high speed rail an option for India's railway development, only time limited the exchange.
The group visited the new and futuristic railway stations recently opened at Beijing South and Tianjin and traveled on the high speed train between these two cities at a speed that reached 330 km/h.
From high speed passenger travel the group moved to heavy haul freight transport including visiting the Datong-Qinhuangdao (DaQin) dedicated coal railway that is at present alone transporting 400 million tons of coal per year. Along this line 20,000-ton coal trains can reach a length of over 7 km pulled by powerful electric locomotives over an extra heavy duty track and driving down operating costs. The Indian Railway is expected to adopt some of the technical and operational features of DaQin line on the dedicated freight corridors that are being planned and are under construction in India.
At the end of the weeklong visit, the delegation moved to logistics. Transportation hubs, where several modes converge and handling and storage is concentrated, have proven to be effective and efficient in reducing costs and time of transport. Both China and India are establishing such hubs and so it was fitting that a visit to an ambitious inland logistics park under construction in the City of Xi'an takes place.
An exchange provides for a two-way interface and though this visit focused on India studying China, past and future exchanges have brought and will bring China Railways to India. And both parties agree that the Bank serves as an effective and informed convener for such exchanges. Several members of the India delegation have taken their time to share their experience during this exchange:
Rahul Kumar Goel was particularly impressed by two aspects of Chinese Railways which he suggested can be applied to India. "One is that you have to develop a long term and creditable plan, and convince others that you will stick to it. The second would be the high level of design quality of all engineering aspects of high speed railway projects so that project implementation is carried out without any technical changes."
Jagmohan Gupta was much impressed by the efficient process of project planning, formulation and implementation on Chinese railways. He said the speed with which Chinese Railways implemented their project is amazing and Indian Railway can learn a lot from them. Regarding funding, he said that "despite these projects being capital intensive, the Chinese railways were able to mobilize the funding from various sources other than the central government."
Mr. Gupta cited flexible pricing as another lesson which Indian railway can borrow from the Chinese railways. "We visited the high speed line from Beijing to Tianjin, and we found that during the peak hours, the rates are different and when we were returning, the price of the ticket was lower. Similarly when we were taking a journey to Xi'an, I found the lower berth was priced higher than the upper berth."
Vinay Kumar Singh urged that interactions such as this one be conducted more often. "We are also looking to develop some high speed tracks in India and we could gain a lot by technical discussions with our counterparts in China" he said.