From Vilas Bajaj’s New York Times profile of India’s over-capacity and low-speed railway network. (The system moves 7 billion passenger trips per year, or roughly 7 times the population of the country.)
Critics say the growth and modernization of Indian Railways has been hampered by government leaders more interested in winning elections and appeasing select constituents, rather than investing in the country’s long-term needs. It is one of the many ways that the political realities of India’s clamorous democracy stand in contrast to the forced march that China’s authoritarian system can dictate for economic development.
Has any democracy found an effective way around this? Journalists here in Australia love to reduce all transport infrastructure questions to political calculations around marginal seats in Parliament — and sometimes they’re right. The best solution we encountered in the Sydney Morning Herald Inquiry was to create a professionalized agency with a bit of autonomy from the Minister of Transport — responsive to government for large-scale goals but not detailed decisions of implementation, phasing, and operations. If you don’t like these things, you call them bureaucracies. But so far, they seem to be the least-bad solution I’ve seen.