A few weeks ago, I posted about Bombardier’s building trains in India. Now the New York Times has some additional information on India’s railroads (Clogged Rail Lines Slow India’s Development, Jun 15). As this video demonstrates, passenger service on an Indian railway can be a little cramped. But it is not like things are much better on the freight side:
S. K. Sahai’s firm ships containers 2,400 nautical miles from Singapore to a port here in four or five days. But it typically takes more than two weeks to make the next leg of the journey, 870 miles by rail to New Delhi. For most of that time the containers idle at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai because railway terminals, trains and tracks are severely backlogged all along the route. Counting storage and rail freight fees, Mr. Sahai estimates the cost of moving goods from Mumbai to Delhi at up to $840 per container — or about three times as much as getting the containers to India from Singapore.
“They don’t have any physical space,” Mr. Sahai, who is chairman of SKS Logistics of Mumbai, said about the government-owned Indian Railways. “And all their trains are booked.”
Developing an infrastructure that can keep up with India’s booming economy is a real challenge. As the article explains, expanding and managing the railroads are all tied up with Indian politics. There is an incentive to keep passenger fares low but that leaves little resources to invest in expansion and modernization. There are other factors that hamper development. For example, the installed track is relatively lightweight and the standard locomotive engine relatively underpowered compared to other nations. As a result, the typical Indian freight train is hauling 5,000 tons of cargo and not the 20,000 tons one would have in the US or China.
Such limitations could limit India’s ability to take advantage of developments in the rest of Asia. A lot of things have been happening in China that call into question what manufacturing will remain there. India would seem a logical place for some of the work currently in China to go. However, if logistics remain limited by the available infrastructure, India may fail to capitalize on this opportunity.