New Delhi: Yes we need bullet trains to be among the big league that run such trains. But running more trains as well as longer ones so all passengers get confirmed seats should preferably have a higher priority over mere speed. The constraint to increase trains to meet demand comes from saturation of trunk routes. Trains are yearly added to them disregarding infrastructural bottlenecks and direly needed systemic improvements.

But even if saving a few hours means more than meeting the basic requirements of the traveling public, bullet trains would drastically reduce carrying capacity on existing tracks even of the golden quadrilateral and spur shortages. Upper-class railway charges almost match airfares and hassles attend long-distance train journeys. Air travellers, therefore, won’t switch to bullet trains even if travel time is halved unless the experience is unmatched.

At base, quadrupling of important tracks must precede bullet trains and even existing network expansion. Public-private partnership should build and operate new tracks, new overhead equipment, new rolling stock and new terminals. Besides money, execution speed is of the essence.

Some time ago, senior officials scouted for bullet train technology overseas. Not enough. Technology must be joined with managerial vision and responsiveness to change, client demands and workforce aspirations. It saddens that a commercial organization like Indian Railways performs miserably in the best-possible business scenario: of a monopoly, operating in a sellers’ market, backed by a burgeoning middle class.

Still, if our clients want bullet trains, serve them up. But also give them basic necessities like the facility and freedom to travel when and where they like, clean trains and stations, and an overall better-managed railway that can compete with networks in the developed world.

History teaches much. In the 19th Century, without the technology and planning tools of today, it took just 25 years to link the four major cities. All five hill railways were built at the same amazing pace. Today, we are crippled by red tape, unable to reap the benefits of over 100 years of technological advancements and breakthroughs.

All this must change. Indian Railways needs revolutionary new thinking and execution methods. Its centrality to resurgent India and economic growth cannot be overstated.

The views expressed are personal.