Kerala is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in India. But the state lags far behind in social and economic growth due to the slow speed in the existing highways and railways. Traffic on National Highways and railway tracks in Kerala is 30 – 40% slower when compared to other states. The 560 Km long Kasaragod-Thiruvananthapuram journey currently takes 10 to 14 hours on rail and road. The average speed of the train on this route, which currently has many stops and curves, is 45 Kmph. At present, the Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram train journey can take up to 6 hours. If the Silverline becomes a reality, that distance can be covered in an hour and a half. It only takes 3 hours and 53 minutes to reach Thiruvananthapuram from Kasaragod. SilverLine is therefore relevant as it offers the best solution to the growing travel needs of Kerala. The project will be a major breakthrough in the development of infrastructure for the people of Kerala and future generations who are facing travel difficulties due to the drawbacks of the existing transport.
In Kerala, the cities en route the alignment are developed and the trains need to stop at all the 11 district headquarters or activity centres to give 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 350 Kmph, a train has to travel around 20-25 Kms from start to reach the speed of 350 Kmph. Also for stopping a train, a brake has to be applied at a distance of five kilometers before the station. So effectively the distance traveled by train at 350 kmph is considerably less and we are not effectively utilizing a high-speed network in a major portion of the network. Stopping only at alternate stations may help to achieve speed but will not be beneficial to travelers resulting in lower traffic and affecting viability. In Kerala we have found that the average trip length is around 200 Kms, ie the majority of the people are traveling only for a distance of 200 Kms. The time taken to travel 200 Kms in a high-speed network is just above one hour and in a semi-high speed system, it is one hour 25 minutes. Hence time saved is not substantial compared with the capital cost of construction. For constructing a high-speed network at 350 Kmph, 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 per kilometer, which may not be affordable to a large section of the traveling public.
SilverLine is proposed as the 3rd and 4th line between Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod parallel to the existing Indian Railway network. Since it was decided to have an operational speed of 200 Kmph, it was technically not feasible to have the new track adjacent to the existing railway track in south Kerala between Thiruvananthapuram and Tirur due to a large number of sharp curves and uneven terrain. Hence, a greenfield alignment has been proposed between Thiruvananthapuram and Tirur duly taking the alignment through the least populated areas. However, since the existing rail alignment between Tirur and Kasaragod have relatively fewer sharp curves, the SilverLine is planned parallel and adjacent to the existing railway track.
Indian Railway is currently running Gatimaan Express in the Delhi-Agra section at a speed of 160 Kmph. The railway is also planning to upgrade the speed in Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah sections from 130 Kmph to 160 Kmph by augmenting the infrastructure in these sections including the provision of fencing. As per Railways current plan, the Golden Quadrilateral line (the line connecting Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Howrah) will be considered next for upgrading the speed. Currently, no railway section in Kerala has been planned for speed up-gradation.
The existing rail alignments have around 626 curves between Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod. Hence for increasing the speed in Kerala, these curves have to be straightened in addition to strengthening the existing formation, bridges, and track.
In Kerala, Absolute Block Signalling 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 but 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 140 Kmph as per Indian Railways policy guidelines to ensure the safety of the public. Providing an Automatic/Electronic Signalling System will only marginally increase the average speed and cannot in any way increase the speed near to 200 Kmph. The present Railway system has trains like Superfast trains, Mail/Express Trains, Passenger Trains, and Goods Trains running at a speed varying from 100 Kmph to 35 Kmph. In such a mixed traffic system, the speed of the slowest train will be the deciding factor.
The existing Railway alignment from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod has around 626 curves which will have speed restrictions varying from 20 Kmph to 110 Kmph. If the existing railway network has to be made suitable for speeds beyond 110 Kmph, all these curves have to be straightened. Out of the 576 Kms track, 36% of the track is in curved alignment. Strengthening these 626 curves is a herculean task. As the existing railway line passes through the densely populated and urban areas, it is highly impracticable to straighten these curves since straight alignment will have to pass through thickly populated city centres. It is worthwhile to mention that the existing Broad Gauge network in Kerala is the same Meter Gauge network constructed by Britishers which was converted into Broad Gauge without straightening the curves. Further because of the poor soil conditions and old bridges, a large number of speed restrictions are in force and hence it is practically impossible to increase the speed. The mixed type of traffic consisting of Mail/Express trains, superfast trains, and low-speed goods trains also does not permit running a large number of high-speed trains.
It is true that the doubling of the existing single-line railway track in Kerala should have happened decades ago. The track being doubled currently will solve the existing traffic problem like over-saturation, late running of trains, etc. The current ongoing doubling work will not solve the real transportation requirements that will arise after 10 years and beyond. In the current doubling project, the second line is planned with the same curves running parallel to the existing alignment and hence the maximum speed of the section will not increase despite improvements made in the track. Hence there will not be any substantial time-saving in the travel across Kerala even after the doubling works are completed.
In India, trains run on the Broad Gauge system in the existing Indian Railway network. Currently, the maximum speed of trains in India is 160 Kmph. There are no universally accepted international standards for Broad Gauge system. The standards of Broad Gauge are governed by the IRS Codes for trains running in Indian railways. To run trains above 160 Kmph in Broad Gauge, new Standard/Specifications are to be framed in India which will take considerable time and effort.
In the international scenario, Standard Gauge systems in most of the countries with trains running up to 350 Kmph are successfully operational for years. These Standard Gauge Systems are governed by European and International Standards like EN and UIC codes. Further, for rolling stock, technology is not available for speeds above 160 Kmph in India and not many international manufacturers have the technology for supplying Broad Gauge coaches.
The shortcomings of the Broad Gauge have been appraised by the new High Speed, semi high speed, and metro projects in India, and accordingly, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Project, the RRTS Project in Delhi, all the Metro Projects have adopted Standard Gauge which is a proven technology.
For running trains at 200 Kmph, Standard Gauge is the most suitable technology. Further, Indian Railways have approved the proposal of Silverline as a standalone network. The existing trains of Indian Railways are currently not equipped with the latest ATP (Automatic Train Protection), ATO (Automatic Train Operation) systems which are essential for operation in Silverline at 200 Kmph. The rolling stock sets of Indian Railways including freight trains that have a maximum speed of 70 Kmph cannot be run in the Silverline, which is designed for 200 Kmph. The speed differential between the Indian Railway trains and Silverline trains will impact the average speed and throughput of the Silverline trains.
Semi High-Speed Rail Project is a conventional railway system similar to the one operational in Indian Railways for speeds up to 160 Kmph. In SilverLine, the designed speed has been fixed as 220 Kmph with an operational speed of 200 Kmph based on European/International Standards. Technology and manufacturers are locally available except for rolling stock(train sets). Even rolling stock (Train sets) to suit our specifications can be manufactured in India as a “Make in India” programme since many international train manufacturers have manufacturing facilities in India. SilverLine is conceived in full compliance with the Public Procurement Policy guidelines of the Government of India and the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme.
The government of Kerala has 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. However, the Ministry of Railways has not agreed to the proposal since the existing railway network with two lines is primarily to cater to the long-distance trains and freight trains of Indian Railways. Ministry of Railways has suggested that State Government may construct two additional lines for intercity suburban traffic and accordingly Government of Kerala has proposed this Silverline with two additional lines with a speed of 200 Kmph.
Silverline project is a Railway Project. The rail projects are the most energy-efficient and least polluting transportation models now available in the world. Global transport emission in 2018 is around eight billion tons of CO2, which is about 24% of the total CO2 emissions from energy. Out of this, 75% of the transport emission comes from road vehicles, whereas CO2 emission from the rail is 1% (Data source: ourworldindata.org). The land required for constructing this rail project is half of that of the national highway and can carry 3 times the national highway traffic, that too without any pollution. The requirement of natural resources like earth, boulders, m sand, etc. will be relatively very less.
The existing railway network, which is running parallel to the proposed Silverline itself is a standing example that the railway network will not create flood and any other environmental hazards. In addition to the studies already done, detailed environmental impact studies and hydrological studies will be conducted to ensure that this alignment will not affect the free flow of water.
Out of 530 Kms of Silverline, around 137 kms of the track is either underground or on the pillar. There is free movement from one side to another side of the line at these 137 KM locations. On all the existing roads, including village roads and Kacha roads, either over-bridges or under bridges will be constructed so that the free movement of people is not obstructed. In addition, for the convenience of the local public, a passage is being provided at every 500 meters so that people can move freely across the rail.
Since Silverline is having trains running at 200 Kmph, trespassing by people or cattle is dangerous and will affect the safety of the trains as well as people. Accordingly, as per Indian Railway policy, there will be fencing to restrict trespassing. Even in the Indian Railway network, the public is not supposed to trespass into the railway track.