Seeing mere photographs and videos of the engine-less ‘Train 18’ or catching a glimpse of it if one’s lucky enough to enter the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) premises was the closest the people of south India could get to the first indigenously built high-speed train of the country.
Tracks in the three zones, covering Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, are equipped to only operate trains at a peak speed of 110 kmph; 50 kmph less than the peak speed of Train 18.
A senior SR officer, requesting anonymity, admitted to the dearth in infrastructure which rendered them incapable of operating high-speed trains. He said that even the very few Shatabadi and Rajdhani (only two Rajdhani trains from SR) trains operated from and to Southern Railway have been restricted to 110 kmph, unlike the north Indian trains of the same category, some of which clock over 130 kmph based on the quality of the track.
“Coach/rake is just one of the requirements. Apart from tracks, we also need adequate overhead traction (OHT) and signalling infrastructure to operate Train 18 here. The existing infrastructure can only hold up to 110 kmph. Even Shatabdi trains here are operated at 110 kmph. Delhi-Bhopal section in northern railway is the only place the train could be operated at 160 kmph,” a senior SR officer reasoned, adding that Chennai–New Delhi sector (route) might be classified as high-speed corridor, but the infrastructure was only 110 kmph competent.
Ironically, chances of operating Train 18 in the southern states even in the distant future seems bleak, going by the admission of Railway officials that there was no active proposal to upgrade the track infrastructure to run high-speed trains here. No wonder the first train set has already been designated for Northern Railway.