Thursday, 22 November 2012

Contrails Vs Rail Travel

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Was published here

A study conducted by Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation(CAPA) show that the domestic air travel in India is on rise due to its booming and consistent economy. In December 2011 the number of people traveling by air was 5.63 millions. This took the number of domestic flyers in 2011 just past the 60 million mark, up 16.6% from previous year's figure of 52 millions averaging out at 5.1 million passengers per month, and up 74% from 2006 levels. And India is going to remain fastest growing aviation market in the world with the 2011-12 fiscal likely to record a growth of 17-18%.

On domestic level there is not so cheerful news related to aviation that rocked Indian politics and economic world. India’s premier flying company Kingfisher owned by glamorous tycoon Vijay Mallya recently filed for bankruptcy which was decried by many on the hint from government that it might offer financial help when the banks refused to lend more money. Besides, national carrier Air India is already in red for long time and is still undergoing financial and labour woes and must be restructured if it has to survive. The largest stand-alone carrier is  IndiGo with a 19.5% market share, it’s  also the fastest growing carrier simply because its cheapest. And that is why it becomes worth exploring why a developing and poor country where only less than 2% people travel by air has virtually no decent, efficient and cheap rail travel, is worth exploring.
Professor Peter Head recipient of OBE for his contribution in sustainable cities development work and founder of a charitable organization Ecological Sequestration Trust advocates in his report that aims to demonstrate creation of ecological tow, that in low and middle income countries any new airports should be focused on international/ regional travel over approximately 600 km and they should be located on high speed rail routes and connected into local urban areas with mass transit systems. Citing the example on Europe he writes that Europe now have a viable high speed rail network which is more attractive option available than regional air travel for distances up to 600km.When high speed rail was introduced rail user numbers doubled and on some routes such as the 300 km Paris-Brussels route air travel dropped to a negligible level. This experience has also been confirmed in Japan. High speed railway investment along with the capacity for rail freight movement with links built directly to city edge consolidation centers will be very efficient way forward. This is the one area of ecological footprint reduction from urban centers.

According to many scientific studies it has been predicted that air travel and its emission is going to be one of the biggest source of carbon emission in atmosphere. One only have to look up of clear blue sky day to see the crisscrossing  contrails  formed as a plane flies at high altitude. Taking train instead of plane can cut almost 90% of carbon emission. In a study Eurostar the high-speed railway service connecting London with Paris and Brussels shows that taking the train to Paris instead of flying cuts CO2 emissions per passenger not just by a measly 10% or 20% or even 50%, but by a staggering 90%. This is not to mention the time saving from security check which has increases post 9/11 where it takes 2 hours to check in for an hour of flight. Incidentally, the environmental benefit of taking the train instead of a plane may be much greater than 90%.  Airliners emit their CO2 directly into the upper atmosphere, where it is likely to do over twice the damage of the same quantity of CO2 emitted at ground level (estimates vary between 2 & 3 times the damage, but 2.7 is the factor normally used). This factor isn't included in the Eurostar findings.

Indian case is interesting since despite being a developing country it has leapfrogged to air travel without providing an efficient rail travel that can easily take the pressure off the aviation industry an economically unviable alternative. Only Indigo airline has shown rising profit margin rest of them are not doing great. Considering the fact that the four metros and forty-one other more than a million population cities   where business class flies lies within 600-800 kilometers, sustainable transport studies researchers and urban planner recommend that high speed rail investment should have equal priority with roads. More thrust should be given for efficient travel within the radius of 300-600 kilometers as it is more sustainable to have a ground transport that is be efficient, cheaper, environment friendly and sustainable than forcing commuters to choose costly air travel.

Some 10 years back there was talk of improving the 500km tracks between Mumbai-Ahmadabad, one of the most lucrative business travel corridor with the cost of roughly three quarter of a million dollars per kilometer. Now there has been a renewed talk of Golden Rail that can possibly travel with upward of 200km/hr. Currently travelling roughly 1400km from New Delhi to Bombay takes almost 15-17 hours with these new trains it will be cut to just 6 or 8 hours which will really take away huge chunk of air travel off not only making it accessible and convenient to all but also cutting down green house gas emission.  More detail on high speed rail project development in India is given here.

There has been a metro system in Kolkata for long time and Delhi has it for over a decade now. Similar projects have been completed in Bangalore and one in Bombay is underway. Since neither technology nor finance for such projects has wholly indigenous and its been done by foreign or multilateral institutional funding and imported technology, considering the post liberalization growth, rising income, and specially knowing the possible effect of climate change variability, if not all this but just to save foreign exchange on petro-products, pollution, congestion and convenience to ordinary people, we should have had them almost a decade back at least in all metropolitan area. But our policy and planing division works as  a kirana store which is so busy catering to its trifle concerns that the larger and future development evades it.

And it not only the big projects like this that has been neglect for decades. One only have to walk for five minutes anywhere in India to realize that no one from public agency has ever come out to see what has be done and specially how it has been implemented. It is not the larger masses that is poor and uneducated but the selected and elected people at the top that is neta-babu nexus that has shown utter contempt to its own profession forget about living up to the need of people.

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