The Gatimaan Express, which recently travelled from Delhi to Agra with a top speed of 160 kmph amid much hoopla, may have been the first time-tabled, passenger train in India to touch this speed. But it can’t be called India’s fastest train ever.

Thirteen years ago, a train hit a record 179 kmph on the Goa-Mumbai Konkan Railway stretch.

The train in question was on a test run in December 2002. Powered by an Electro-Motive Diesel WDP-4 class locomotive, it began its landmark journey from Madgaon in Goa, and covered a distance of 450 km till Roha, near Mumbai, in just three-and-a-half hours.

B Rajaram, who was the managing director of the Konkan Railway Corporation at the time, said the test was conducted by the Konkan Railway along with the railway research wing – the Railway, Design and Standards Organisation, or RDSO – which monitored the test for safety with the help of expertise from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.

Breaking records

The commissioner of railway safety cleared the run. “The Konkan Railway took responsibility, I had signed the certificate personally,” said Rajaram. “The RDSO issued a speed certificate for the rail cars and the locomotive, but combined with track and signals, the safety of the run became my responsibility as the managing director.”

Rajaram, who now lives in the US said, when the test began, the ride was smooth but he had to soon rein in the overenthusiastic driver. “As the test run started, it was smooth sailing,” said Rajaram. “In certain locations, the driver got carried away, and reached as fast as 179 kmph before I cautioned him and brought the train back to the 160 kmph to 170 kmph range. This only tells us that we could always achieve it [the high speed].”

In later years after quite a few accidents, the rail safety commissioner reduced the speed of trains on the Konkan Railway to ensure passenger safety. Today, trains on that stretch run at a maximum speed of about 100 kmph.

Faster still?

This is not to undermine the Gatimaan’s 160 kmph achievement, which was made possible by strengthening rail tracks and following additional safety and technical norms. The semi high speed train, which completed its maiden Delhi-Agra stretch in a record 100 minutes, was powered by a WAP-5 class locomotive with Linke Hofmann Busch rail cars that are already being used by the Shatabdi and Rajdhani trains.

At present, the other fast trains in India include the Bhopal Shatabdi, with a top speed of 150 kmph, and the Rajdhanis at 140 kmph.

Locomotives and rail cars in use in India are already capable of running at high speeds, so the Gatimaan is a good step forward. The next step is to sustain these speeds and extend them to other trains as a regular feature. But that will only be possible if tracks and other infrastructure are upgraded across the country. And then why stop at just 160 kmph?