Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Transport Vs Highway Networks in India

Transport Systems -Prologue

Transport is the heart of all developmental activities and is essential to economic development and social welfare. An efficient, reliable, affordable and safe transport system is vital for fostering rapid economic growth and it has to be Resource efficient & Eco-friendly, if it has to be sustainable.

Traditionally the goods are moved by Rail or Road or Inland Water transport. The age of Canals in the 19th century was followed by Railway Era, which in turn was overtaken by Road Transport, as the dominant mode of transport, in the latter half of 20th century. The most recent transport infrastructure development is Air Transportation.
The income and mobility have always progressed together and the mobility increases with income. But mobility tends to increase faster than income in the developing economies, mainly because of movements of population from rural to urban areas and of increasing movement of goods. The capacities have always been lagging behind demand, resulting in present sad state of urban environment.

Indian Scenario

Over the decades, in spite of significant development of transport modes, transport capacity has tended to lag behind the requirement of economy, leading to congestion, asset deterioration and high level of energy consumption, pollution and accidents. There is a continuous increase in the share of Road traffic at the expense of Rail. Though successive Five Year Plans took cognizance of these problems, there is inadequate investment in capacity building, mainly because of resource problem facing the public sector that has been largely responsible for transport infrastructure development.

In spite of special attention being paid, particularly in the recent years, for development of transport infrastructure, some areas like North-East continue to be inadequately served and this has affected not only their economic development but even social & political integration with the rest of the country.
The new economic policies have opened new avenues for private participation in transport sector, thus augmenting resources as also increasing the scope of commercial orientation to transport operations. But, Road Transport network got the lions share at the cost of Rail & Inland Waterways / Coastal Shipping networks, which continue to remain in the domain of Public sector.

Road Transportation in India

In a fuel scarce economy in India, heavily depending on import of petroleum products, around 30 % of total energy consumed is estimated to be utilized on transport. A part of this consumption is attributable to inappropriate choice of the mode of transport, bad roads and the obsolete / fuel inefficient technologies used in vehicles.
Sri. B.K Chaturvedi, Member Planning Commission, while inaugurating a regional conference on On Road Safety Strategy organized by International Road Safety in October 2011, is reported to have said that Road Accident Deaths and Injuries cost India at least Rs One Lakh Crore per year. According to a note jointly prepared by the Health and the Highways Ministries, an estimated 1.6 lakh people were killed in road accidents in 2010.

Road safety experts feel that the number of road accidents and deaths reported are less than the actual figures, due to lack of scientific data collection. Road accidents are serious issues, but little attention is being paid to this. While annually the nation loses almost 1.5% of its GDP on account of road accidents, not even 10% of that amount is being spent to make the roads safe.

While Government is trying to push the construction of National Highways from 20 Km to 50 Km every day, there does not seem to be enough focus on making Roads Safe. While designing or building Highways, enough care does not seem to be taken to ensure that there are adequate facilities for pedestrian and for local population, while Highways pass through smaller towns and Rural areas.

According to study conducted by Center for Media Studies across a dozen major transport hubs covering over 1,200 truck drivers, it is estimated that total Bribe amount close to Rs.22,000 crore is being collected on roads every year, by the Police and officials of other Enforcing agencies

Rail Vs Road Transportation

The personalized transport is estimated to consume about 20 times the energy required by public transport buses, per passenger kilometer. The rail systems which are the most powerful and energy efficient systems, having the highest hourly passenger carrying capacity, require much less energy than the buses. Similarly transporting a tonne of freight by road requires several times the energy required to transport the same tonne of freight by rail or inland water transport.

The Western Europe, China, India and Japan account for substantial share of passenger transportation by Rail. In contrast the passenger travel in USA by rail accounts for infinitesimal share of total passenger travel. Even though Rail passenger transport is generally considered to be much more energy efficient, than Road/ Air passenger transport, the Rail’s share of passenger transport is falling steadily all over the world. Similarly the share of freight hauled by Rail and Inland Water transport/Coastal Shipping, relatively energy efficient modes, is sharply declining.

India, with 4 times the Population and one fourth the geographical Area of USA, cannot afford to follow the model of USA, by opting for energy intensive Road Transport network and short haul Air Transport Network, while trying to bring down carbon emissions.

Highways Development at the Cost of Railways

In India, Road Transport has grown at the cost of the Railways. The road ways which carried 11% of freight and 26% of passenger traffic in 1951, handled 34% of freight and 60% passenger traffic in 1971. In the more recent years, the share of road is estimated to have gone up further. The manner in which the distortion has reached, can be gauged by the fact that bulk cargoes are moved by Roads over long distances, even though it is more economical to carry them by rail. The four-laning of “Golden Quadrangle”, with an overall investment of Rs.20,000 crore, at the rate of Rs. 4 crore per km, has distorted further, to the disadvantage of Rail Transportation.

Road Transport & Climate Change

The most crucial issue that transportation planners face, is how to economize on transport costs. The Energy & Environment costs should be the over riding consideration, while determining an optimal mix of the country’s transport system, with substantial energy savings and consequent reduction in carbon emissions and other pollutants. Road transport is the dominant source of emissions that contribute to urban air pollution. The rail transport is relatively environmentally benign, although it contributes to noise.

A well integrated, multi-modal system relying increasingly on emerging technologies, will be an essential element of sustainable transport scenario in the present millennium. Road transport should take care of bulk cargo over short hauls and in areas not covered by rail. The highest priority should be given for the development of rural roads and district roads, connecting to rail-head and other main roads, instead of giving priority only to the National Highways / Express Ways.

Demand Suppression Approach Needed

Too much emphasis on converting National/State Highways into Expressways and building Flyovers, Outer Ring Roads, widening of urban roads etc which is Supply oriented, will only add more and more vehicles on roads, further increasing fuel consumption and adding to air pollution & carbon emissions.

What we need is the Avoidance-Oriented or Demand-Suppression approach, so as to bring down the number vehicles on roads and to cut down fuel consumption and consequential pollution & emissions. The suppression of demand for Motor Vehicles will be strongly opposed by powerful Automobile Industry Lobby and the Policy Makers, as it may have short term adverse impact on GDP growth rate. The introduction of Euro-6 Norms for Diesel vehicles, will be nothing but window dressing, as Diesel vehicles are known to be the worst polluters.

If there is a political will, the suppression of demand for Automobiles, can be achieved by developing and encouraging energy efficient modes like Railways, Coastal Shipping, Inland Water-Transport, Multi-Mode Transport systems, and Product Pipelines for long distance movement of bulk commodities and Metro Rail Systems for urban public transportation.


As Automobile intensive Transport system is one of the major producers of green-house gases emission, It is necessary to encourage the modes of transport mix and technologies, which consumes less energy per unit of throughput and generate lower level of emissions.

Our present way of life is harmful to the Environment, harmful to the population of third world, harmful to poor people in our own country and very very harmful to the future”

Our Technological Society exhibits at one and the same time Breathless Intelligence and Abysmal lack of Wisdom. That we can produce Trident Submarines shows how smart we are: that we do in fact produce them, shows how completely idiotic we are“