There are a lot of misconceptions revolving around the SilverLine project. The FAQ section provides factually correct information as an effort to educate people about the realities of the project.
Presently, Kerala is reeling under the increasing vehicle volumes and traffic congestions. The amount of vehicles treading the roads is increasing on a day to day basis on a scale that is more than what can be accommodated by the National Highways. The state also witnesses a large number of road accidents. According to the report of the Union Ministry of Transport, Kerala had the fourth highest number of road accidents in the country in 2019, the year before lockdowns were imposed. Despite being a sought after tourist destination, the traffic situation in the state taints the travel experience of the tourists.
The speed of travel in Kerala is 30-40% lower when compared to other states. The 560 km long journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod takes nearly 10-12 hours via road or rail. This route is riddled with stops and curves preventing the trains from going any faster than an average speed of 45kmph. The Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram journey takes up to 6 hours. SilverLine’s implementation will bring this down to just 1.5 hours. The entire journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod will take only 3 hours and 54 minutes. The saving of journey time will free up 2, 80,000 hours allowing it to be utilized for other constructive purposes.
There are different kinds of gauges being used for Railway tracks, namely, Narrow Gauge, Meter Gauge, Broad Gauge, Standard Gauge etc. Each has its own set of pros and cons. Standard Gauge has been chosen for this project as it is a well developed state of the art system having well established standards for the high speed trains. In order to achieve stability, desired speed, speed at which it negotiates the curves and lower cost of construction, most countries prefer Standard Gauge for trains running at high speeds.
Worldwide, 55-60% lines are that of Standard Gauge. Barring a few countries, most high speed rails ply on Standard Gauge. Indian Railway network runs on Broad Gauge which is not compatible to trains journeying at a speed of 160kmph and more. Indian Railway Standard (IRS) sets the criteria for Broad Gauge in India.
To operate trains above 160Kmph in Broad Gauge, new standards/specifications need to be framed. This will take a considerable amount of time and effort. For High Speed and Semi High Speed projects, Standard Gauge is being accepted. We will have to wait a few more years for the specifications to be finalized. Even after nearing 75 years of Independence, India still lags behind in the scenario of high speed trains mainly due to this. From some quarters, critics are pointing out a prevailing alternative example of Broad gauge system in Russian Railways. However, the Russian gauge cannot be compared with the broad gauge system of Indian Railways, as the width of Indian Broad Gauge is 1676 mm whereas Russia’s is 1520 mm. Moreover standard gauge opens up possibilities of seamless integration across geographies.
Delhi-Meerut RRTS, Mumbai-Ahmadabad High Speed rails and the recent Delhi-Varanasi High Speed Project act as examples in this regard. These are some of the reasons why India’s new high speed, semi highspeed projects have been adopting a standard gauge system.
An assessment of similar High Speed trains in other countries would help overcome this misconception. The High Speed trains, Highways or Expressways of Europe, America, Russia and China have not caused the bifurcation of geographies in the areas they pass through. Bridges and underpasses have been erected where needed to prevent such situations from arising. This model is envisioned in the SilverLine project as well.
Out of the 530km length of SilverLine, 137 km will be covered in tunnels and over pillars. The present free movement of people would not be obstructed. At points of intersection between roads and SilverLine, either ROBs or RUBs will be provided to ensure uninterrupted road traffic.
Provision of passageways within every 500m is planned to allow people to move across. Also, tracks would be fenced on either sides for the safety of the local populace and the animals. Indian Railway policy mandates fencing of tracks where trains run above a speed of 140kmph. In compliance with this, Delhi-Agra stretch has been fenced. Plans are on to do the same to the Delhi-Howrah and Delhi-Mumbai section as well.
Embankments are soil platforms constructed to carry railway lines. Many of the existing railway lines have been laid over such structures. None of the embankments in Kerala have caused the occurrence of floods till date. There are certain areas that are nevertheless prone to water logging irrespective of the presence of embankments. If the natural waterways that help in draining the water are preserved and these are widened sufficiently, water stagnation can be overcome. Such measures have been incorporated in the project plan of SilverLine.
Culverts will be provided by SilverLine to allow the draining of water. Hydrographic surveys for the same are being carried out. The design of the project has taken in the data of the worst flood situation in the last 100 years. Hence, in addition to not being a cause for floods, SilverLine projects also take measures to mitigate water-logging in areas that are prone to it.
SilverLine does not traverse through ecologically fragile zones or wildlife areas. The natural flow of water is unobstructed in rivers and streams. Nearly 88km of the total length of SilverLine falls in areas having paddy fields and wetlands. In order to preserve such ecosystems in its pristine form, it is proposed to construct viaducts over them.
The project is fully eco friendly. It is anticipated that a good percentage of travelers will adopt Silverline instead of road as their mode of conveyance. It is also estimated that over 500 goods vehicles will avail SilverLine services. SilverLine can help in bringing down the carbon emissions by a considerable amount. In its maiden year, close to 2,80,000 tonnes of carbon emissions will be reduced.
Land strips with width ranging between 15-25 m will be acquired. A six lane highway with service roads will require more than double the land that is needed for this project. The alignment has been decided on areas where the impact is least affected. The quantity of construction materials like stones, boulders, sand etc needed for the project will only be half of what is required for 45 meter National Highways. At the same time, SilverLine will be able to carry more passengers when compared to the highways. Ten trees would be planted for every tree that is being cut down for the project. A part of the soil for the embankment will be met from the cut spoils. Adequate methods for disposal of debris will be in place. These are the measures taken to minimize the ecological impact of the project.
As part of the DPR preparation, a rapid EIA was carried out to ascertain and analyze the impact of the project on nature. This was done despite Railway projects being absolved from obtaining environmental clearance, as was clarified by the Central Government in the National Green Tribunal. The study is being held to examine the implications of the project on nature, a measurement of the same, how this can be reduced and the steps to mitigate/lessen the impact. The study is usually held to suggest steps for reducing the negative impact on nature. Further, a comprehensive study spanning over a year is also in progress.
The high-speed railway line proposed in 2009-2016 had an estimated cost of ₹1.18 Lakh Cr. SilverLine, far cheaper than High Speed Rail and suited to Kerala’s financial status, is a very practicable project. Silverline project has a total estimated cost of ₹63,941 Cr. Assessing current circumstances, this is definitely an affordable and realistic project cost for Kerala. Out of ₹63941 Cr, ₹6085 Cr will come from the share of taxes of Central and State governments. ₹975 Cr is the share of land owned by Indian Railways. The remaining ₹56,881 Cr will be spent over 5 years. The State’s share is ₹3,225 crores. ₹4,252 crores will be sourced from public share partnerships.
Assistance from international agencies will also be used to meet the costs. Funding agencies like ADB, AIIB etc. allow loans of up to 20 year repayment period, whereas those like JICA offer up to 40 years. The rate of interest of these agencies is also very low such as 0.2% for JICA and 1-1.5% for ADB and AIIB.
The FIRR (Financial internal rate of return) of the project is 8.49%, and its EIRR (Economic internal rate of return) is 24.04%. Projects with EIRR above 14% are considered as viable projects. According to the DPR, the repayment of loans is possible from the revenues that accrue from the project itself.
The amount allocated by Central government for development of railways in Kerala in the last 5yrs (2016-21) is ₹3494.83 Cr. A project of such a large scale cannot be completed with this amount.
Infrastructure projects tend to have an economic multiplier effect as their implementation will attract more investments. This will result in economic growth and the creation of more job opportunities. Such economic growth will help overcome any debt that has been incurred while improving infrastructure facilities. The future generation will only benefit as earnings will amplify when high budget projects that help in development are implemented by taking loans. Nedumbassery airport, Kannur airport etc. are similar high budget projects that can be cited as examples in this regard.
In Kerala, where the cities en route the alignment are developed urban locales, there will be strident demand that the trains need to stop at all the 10 district headquarters or activity centres, in order to facilitate maximum benefit for the travelers. The average distance between the stations is around 50 km. In a High-Speed rail network with trains running at 350kmph, a train has to travel around 20-25kms from when it starts in order to achieve a speed of 350kmph.
Also for halting the train, brakes have to be applied at a distance of 5 kilometers before the station. Therefore, the distance traveled by the train at 350kmph is considerably less. The High Speed lines cannot be effectively utilized as trains cannot run at high speeds in major portions of the section. Stopping only at alternate stations may help to achieve higher speeds, but that will not prove to be beneficial to travelers, thus resulting in lower traffic and affecting viability.
In Kerala, we have found that the average trip length is around 200kms, i.e., majority of people are traveling only for a distance of 200kms. The time taken to cover a journey of 200kms in a High-Speed network is just above 1 hour and in a Semi-High Speed system, it is 1 hour 25 minutes. For constructing a High-Speed network at 350kmph, the cost of construction will be twice compared to the semi high-speed network and accordingly, the ticket fares will also be doubled in the range of Rs.5 to 6/km, which may not be affordable to a large section of the traveling public. Time saved is not substantial compared with the capital cost of construction and its ticket fare.
SilverLine intends to decongest the roads of Kerala by absorbing the traffic and stirring up a shift from public dependence on personal vehicles to resilient modes of public transport. It is estimated that after the commissioning of SilverLine, 46206 people would travel through SilverLine. In its maiden year, SilverLine will take off 12,872 vehicles off the road as a result of which road density would slim down. Also, fuel savings to the tune of Rs. 530Cr would be made. This would lead to savings for India in terms of its Forex reserves as well as lead to lesser carbon emissions.
Currently over 1.5 Cr vehicles travel through the National Highways of Kerala. In this, 35.57 lakh are cars and other small vehicles and over 1Cr are two wheelers. The number of vehicles is increasing on a daily basis. The surge is such that even a drastic scale development of the National Highways will not be able to absorb them. The development of National Highways may provide relief for a short period of time but within the next 5 years, the National Highways will once again flood with vehicles. This vicious cycle will again necessitate further expansion of the width of the National Highways.
Every 5 or 10 years, the state will be forced to plan and implement more and more national highways or alternate expressways through green corridors. Such repeated expansion of national highways, over time, poses grave challenges through repeated land acquisitions for a small, land starved state like Kerala. With shift to rail initiatives and the growing acceptability of a reliable, robust and resilient rail transport solution like the SilverLine project, Kerala’s transportation problems can be effectively addressed over the next 50 years of its growth and development story.
The Government of Kerala had taken the initiative and proposed a suburban rail project between Thiruvananthapuram and Chengannur. As per the proposed suburban project plan, automatic signaling will be provided in the existing Indian Railway network and additional trains will be operated to take care of the intercity commuters.
But this project, planned for the benefit of Inter-City travelers, was not approved by the Railways. Existing two-line paths were constructed for long-distance trains and freight trains. The Railways had intimated to the State Government regarding the need for construction of two additional paths for Inter-City travel. Accordingly, the government has come up with SilverLine Project, comprising two additional lines, offering a speed of 200 km per hour. This is bound to tackle and meet the needs, wants and demands of a distinct segment of time based travelers.
In the Thiruvananthapuram – Mangalore section, out of 634 km the doubling of railways has been completed for 615 km. No major change in speed has been observed in these places. Only a residual stretch of 19 km is pending completion.
Even after completion of the doubling exercise in these places, no major, path breaking outcomes in terms of speed or saving of time is expected in the near future. This is largely on account of the fact that the doubled stretch of railways will have the same number of turns and curves, left still to be negotiated, as the existing line.
There are 626 curves from Trivandrum to Kasaragod. Speed limits, ranging from 20kmph to 110kmph exist in these curved regions. In order to obtain a speed of over 110kmph, all these curves need to be straightened. Out of the 576 km line, about 36% stretch is composed of curves. Kerala’s topography resembles a linear mega city like state, with hardly any rural-urban divisions. Our existing line passes through areas of high population density. Thus, it is not viable to straighten all the curves as it will adversely affect much more people and their habitations. Also, several stations with curves will need to be abandoned. Due to the weak quality of the soil and old bridges, several restrictions are in force here.
In certain places where the meter gauge lines built by the British were converted into broad gauge, several restrictions are in place due to the presence of weak soil and old bridges. Therefore, it is not practically possible to increase the speed as an overnight solution.
Presently, Railway has no plans to enhance the speed of trains in any section of Kerala. Only the straightening of curves and strengthening of bridges, railway tracks, track structures etc. would allow for an increase in the speed. It is not possible to boost the speed without straightening of the curves. If curves are straightened, a new alignment that is different from the existing one would be obtained. This is why Railways has not gone for it.
Outside of Kerala, the Nizamuddin-Kota Rajdhani express runs at an average speed of 102 km. But, within Kerala, the speed is reduced to an average of 57km. The Gatiman express, running at a speed of 160kmph, operates only between Delhi and Agra. In the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah stretches, augmenting speed from 130kmph to 160kmph is being planned by Railways.
As per the present plans of Railways, increase in speed to the tune of 130km is envisioned in the Railway lines falling under the Diamond Quadrilateral connecting Delhi-Mumbai-Chennai-Howrah. Kerala falls outside its purview.
Vande Bharat trains have been certified to run at a speed of 160kmph. However, the tracks of Kerala have maximum sectional speed varying from 80kmph to 110kmph. Vande Bharat trains, when put on the rail lines of Kerala, will achieve the same status as that of Jan Shatabdi and Rajdhani which are the fastest trains in Kerala presently. Maybe a 10% reduction of time would be achieved due to the EMU type coaches of Vande Bharat trains which can accelerate and decelerate quickly.
To upgrade existing Railway network in Kerala so as to make it fit to operate Vande Bharat trains at 160kmph, 626 curves totaling 36% of the length of the existing track is to be straightened out. This comes at a very high capital cost. This upgrading process may take more than 10 to 20 years since it has to be done without suspending train services.
SilverLine contemplates to run 37 trains daily in each direction, with one train in every 20 minutes during peak hours. These many number of Vande Bharat trains cannot be run in the existing Railway network which has already reached its saturation. Silverline intends to run frequent high speed intercity trains within Kerala to attract road users to shift their reliance over personal vehicles to mass public transport system.
In Kerala, Absolute Block Signaling System is currently operational wherein only one train runs in a block section between two stations. By providing an automatic signaling system, more trains can run in one block section. However the speed of trains running on existing rail infrastructure cannot be increased.
For increasing the sectional speed, the track structure has to be improved, bridges have to be strengthened and the curves have to be straightened. Also, fencing needs to be provided for speeds above 140Kmph as per Indian Railways policy guidelines to ensure the safety of the public. Providing an Automatic/Electronic Signaling System in itself will only allow for a marginal increase in the average speed. It cannot in any way increase the speed to 200Kmph. The present Railway system has trains like Superfast Trains, Mail/Express Trains, Passenger Trains, and Goods Trains running at a speed varying from 35Kmph to 100Kmph. In such a mixed traffic system, without doubt, the speed of the slowest train will be the deciding factor.
K-rail is a company jointly owned by the Ministry of Railways and the State Government. The company operates as per the guidelines of the Central Vigilance Commission. All transactions of K-rail are subjected to the audit of Comptroller and Auditor General and the CAG report shall be tabled in the Legislative Assembly. The major activities and procurement of manufacturing material will be assigned to various agencies only through a transparent international tender.
Bilateral / Multilateral lending agencies such as ADB have strict anti-corruption policies for offering loans. Procedures for tender will be in compliance with them. Tenders will be prepared in accordance with guidelines of FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers). The proceedings will be carried out in the most transparent and ethical manner, devoid of any scope for corruption or favoritism.
The technology as well as manufacturing companies required for the project are available in India itself. Rolling stock (train) can be manufactured in India by including it in the ‘Make in India’ scheme. Several international manufacturers of trains have their units in India. SilverLine project has been developed in line with the public procurement policy of the Central government and the Atmanirbhar Bharat Scheme.
The planning of the project commenced in 2018 and it is expected to be commissioned from 2025. The construction companies will be chosen through global tenders. Project Management Companies with the international standard would monitor the construction activities. The construction activities are expected to be implemented with 5 EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) tender packages. This partitioning is based on the funding package. So as to complete the project within 5 years, SilverLine would be planned and scheduled in a fast track manner. Work would be in progress 24/7 so as to complete the project soon.
The time period of five years is more than sufficient to lay a new railway line. Five years is reasonable and fair enough to complete the project of the stated scale and scope, provided land acquisition is completed within two years. If it takes 8-10 years to complete the project, the cost would go up. Hence it is proposed to complete the project within the stipulated time period of 5 years. The physical work will be completed within three years on completion of land acquisition.
Detailed traffic studies were conducted in accordance with the D.P.R. It was found that 1,58,271 vehicles in the form of cars, taxis etc travel the north-south routes of Kerala on a daily basis, covering a minimum distance of 150km and more (passengers travelling between 50-150kms were not considered in this survey). 88,442 people via bus and 91,975 people through trains cover the same distance.
The survey predicts that a good percentage of this number will adopt SilverLine for their journey. This enables the saving of time, fuel and money. While a car journey costs Rs 10/km, SilverLine fares are pegged at Rs 2.75/km, as per the present scenario.
More than 80,000 riders are expected to go for SilverLine in one day. SilverLine would offer 37 services daily in one route and during rush hours, 1 train would be scheduled for every 20 minutes.
The 9 bogies of SilverLine would carry a maximum of 625 people. The survey further estimated that the average distance travelled by passengers would be 200km. SilverLine has a length of 530 kms. While considering an average trip length of 200km, if all seats in every trip is filled, the maximum number of passengers will be 1,74,825. The number of passengers calculated for one day is not even half the number of seats available.
The traffic survey states that if this many passengers take SilverLine every day, with the estimated fare of Rs. 2.75 km, revenue of Rs.1605 crore per annum can be accrued. This will rise commensurately with the increase in the number of passengers. Since the passengers are expected to increase every year, the income will also amplify. Detailed traffic survey report has been uploaded on the K-rail website. Hence, the value has been derived on the basis of clear and accurate studies.
A similar study carried out by ICRA for DMRC in connection with the High Speed Rail Project in Thiruvananthapuram-Kannur in 2016 has projected a ridership of 80,942 in 2020 and 1,21,462 in 2028. This report substantiates the claims made by the KRDCL report.
The Stations are coming in at Kochuveli in Thiruvananthapuram and at the National Highway bypass -Mukhathala in Kollam. Cities have been expanding into these regions. Kakkanad station will be in Kochi metro station itself. Other stations will be in the centre of the city. In Kozhikode, the new station will operate in the tunnel under the existing railway station. The other stations are located at the centre of the city itself.
Also there will be transportation facilities to connect the passengers from Silverline station to the final destination. SilverLine also offers last mile connectivity options through electric vehicles like e-bus, e-bikes etc. These services will be arranged according to SilverLine’s frequencies. The Silverline stations will have adequate charging facilities for electric vehicles.
NITI Aayog has not made any such estimate. After examining the Detailed Project Report of SilverLine, NITI Aayog had raised certain doubts. The major one was whether the cost of SilverLine project was less when compared to the cost of highspeed rail projects. K-Rail has provided the necessary information for all the queries.
After approving the DPR stated project cost of ₹ 63941 cr, NITI Aayog gave the recommendation for foreign loans. Also, RITES, the independent consultancy of Railways, has found the estimate provided in the DPR to be practical and justifiable.
Only the proceedings prior to land acquisition, including Social Impact Assessment, are being carried out at present. It is intended to implement the project in a far sighted, focused and time-bound manner. The Railway board gave in principle approval to the project after the feasibility report was submitted in 2019. According to the memorandum of the Ministry of Finance, projects with in principle approval can proceed with primary steps including land acquisition.
Railway policy dictates that projects receiving in principle approval can begin pre-investment activities including land acquisition. Also, the central Finance Minister has told the State government to proceed with the formalities for loan and speed up land acquisition. Laying of boundary stones prior to Social Impact Assessment is under progress. The SIA is carried out to collect information regarding the impacts of land acquisition, families affected, houses and building prone to damage, remedies to reduce the impact etc. as mandated in the 2013 Act for land acquisition.
As per rapid environment impact assessment conducted as a part of preparing DPR, the alignment chosen for Silverline was carefully narrowed down to be the one with lowest impact on the environment. Since the project is based on such a study, the on-going comprehensive environmental impact study will not be against the project.
The comprehensive environment impact assessment is carried out in order to make the project even more environment friendly. Railway projects do not require environment clearance; this has been stated by Central Government itself at the National Green Tribunal.
The fundamental purpose of the ongoing environment impact assessment study is to objectively determine the possible implications on environment, magnitude of the impact which can be reduced and to devise ways and means for possible remedies in order to reduce the same. The rapid Environment Impact Assessment report is available on K-rail’s website.
Normally, a 30 meter buffer zone is provided for the future development of Indian Railway lines. The construction of buildings in such areas warrants prior approval from the railways. Buffer zones of SilverLine would only be of 10 meters.
According to the economic survey of the Central Government, a one rupee increase in the railway input will convert into an output of 3.3 times in the overall economy. It has also been observed that this multiplier increases year after year. There are also estimates that it can be 5 times the output too. This means that ₹ 63941 Cr estimated investment of SilverLine project can create an impact of ₹ 2 to ₹ 3 lakh in the GDP of the state. This implies that according to the current statistics, a growth of 20-30% in the economy can be attained. This would be a historical achievement and a huge impetus to the economy.
SilverLine will ensure necessary factor endowments for a modern society to flourish in addition to punctuality, support for supply chain and construction activities. A Railway project like SilverLine provides essential components that are key drivers of economic growth required for modern society. They are also expected to contribute to and catalyze other allied sectors of the economy. Large scale development initiatives like SilverLine are also found to play a crucial role in spurring development at the grassroots level.
Kerala, christened “God’s own country”, is a much sought after destination for domestic and international tourists. The sheer diversity of themes, nature’s bounty, connectivity, urban convenience, evolved and educated society etc., makes it attractive. But the absence of fast and efficient transport systems creates obstacles for smooth travel to these tourist spots.
As a result, most tourists who visit K
Kerala choose single destination tourism packages whereas SilverLine can provide easy, safe and fast transportation facility from southern parts of the state to its northern parts. This would promote tourists to choose multi destination tourism packages. The SilverLine project will provide a huge growth potential in the tourism sector which on an average contributes to 10% of the domestic production of the state.
In the 2021-22 railway budget of Government of India, a total of ₹3411.3 Cr has been allocated to the Southern Railway which includes ₹1622.81 Cr in capital expenditure, ₹77.75 Cr as depreciation reserve fund, ₹74.05 Cr as developmental fund, ₹469.867 as security fund and ₹1166.77 Cr towards national rail safety fund.
Out of this ₹ 215 Cr has been allocated for track renewal and ₹ 58.31 Cr for signaling works. According to a notification issued by the railway ministry dated 31.03.2021, the budgetary capital for Southern Railways as per demand no. 84 of the 2021/22 railway budget of government of India is only ₹5803.49 Cr. As the Railway Ministry allocates fund in the budget separately for each railway zone, it is calculated that a total of ₹871 Cr has been allocated for the rail projects in the state in the year 2021- 2022.
Allocation of funds for railway sector in Kerala in the past years are as below
Year ₹in Cr
These statistics highlight two facts. Firstly, since converting 1km of railway track into high-speed track costs ₹ 100cr to ₹ 140cr, the modernization of railway track in Kerala may take 25 to 50 years if done via railway budget. Secondly, a major project like SilverLine can be effectively accomplished only when it is initiated and led by the State Government.
A major way to tackle economic slowdown is to spend money for the infrastructure development sector. Spending money on developing infrastructure will only do good, whatever be the economic scenario. Infrastructure development will ultimately provide a huge boost to employment/business market. It will open up possibilities for local and multi-sectoral development. These kinds of infrastructure projects are even more important in the current situation where the economic scenario is deteriorating due to Covid-19.
For example, in this project, over ₹ 13,000 Cr would be spent for land acquisition alone. This amount will be utilized in the construction sector itself. This is an advantage offered by the project even before its implementation. More benefits will follow when activities worth over ₹23,000 Cr will be carried out in the construction stage. As the project moves towards its completion, the transformational changes that will follow in sectors such as business, tourism, employment will provide huge economic incentives to the state.