What's the article about?
- It talks about the ongoing debate on building railways tracks either in Broad Gauge (BG) or Standard Gauge (SG)
- GS3: Infrastructure: Railways
- India's railway network is predominantly Broad Gauge (BG) with a width of 1.676 metres. However, 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. The gauge debate began in the 1870s when the British introduced Metre Gauge of 1,000 mm in India after starting with BG in 1853. Following extensive deliberations, a uni-gauge policy was launched in the 1990s and progressively, barring a few difficult sections, all the routes were converted to BG. However, by the turn of the 20th century, SG came to be first employed on metro rail networks following a Cabinet resolution which was based on a set of recommendations from a group of empowered Ministers, who left the decision on the choice of gauge to individual State governments.
- Arguments for SG:
- The most prominent factor in favour of SG is its universality. A majority of the metro and high-speed rail systems built in the last 20-30 years across the world are based on SG even if their respective national railways run on different gauges.
- Another argument favouring SG is that it requires less space. The space requirement has two parts — the physical space required on the road and the aerial space required for elevated portions.
- Most metro rail systems today are built on elevated structures and the land required for pillars on roads for both SG and BG is the same.
- Moreover, aerial space requirements for elevated portions should not be a problem as such space is abundant.
- Another argument is the availability of the latest technology for coach design as it is the prevalent system in developed countries.
- Hollow arguments against BG:
- One objection to BG is the higher turning radius with a consequent reduction in speed and throughput. On a given curve, the speed on SG would be around 7% higher than that on BG.
- As speed restrictions are confined to curves, and assuming that 20%-40% of the track length has curves, the extra time taken on BG would be between 1.5%-3%, which means that for every 10 minutes of commuting time on SG, the additional time taken on BG would be around 10 to 20 seconds.
- Similarly, throughput, which is the maximum number of trains that can pass through a track during a certain period of time, depends on the minimum time gap permitted between two successive trains.
- As braking distance and acceleration characteristics are factors of train design, the throughput on a BG system would be similar to that of an SG system.
- Integration of new rail networks with existing ones:
- The most important argument omitted by all stakeholders concerns the integration of new rail networks with existing ones.
- The existing rail system in the country carries around 8 billion passengers and more than 1,500 million tonnes of freight annually. Simultaneously, the system is also undergoing rapid expansion.
- Hence, it would be advantageous to integrate new rail systems with such an extensive system and prevent the creation of incompatible islands. It will help passengers and cargo move seamlessly.
- This would also improve patronage. Such a flexible system would also come in handy in situations of emergency.
- Taking into account the above factors, the government should re-examine the issue with a view to building all future rail systems in BG.
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