High-Speed Rail (HSR) in India, or bullet trains as they are popularly known, is an idea that appeals to the aspirational upper middle class. It is high technology, world-class infrastructure and status symbol all rolled into one flashy package, a sign that India has arrived on the world stage. Given the fondness of the Modi government for grandiose projects, like the HSR Diamond Quadrilateral pledged in its election manifesto, could bullet trains become a reality in India? There needs to be a serious debate on the viability and social desirability of such a project.
International experience and the numbers involved suggest India should do some hard thinking. HSR success stories are almost all from rich, high-income countries on middle-distance (450-500 km) high-density routes, with some notable exceptions, especially China, always a special case.