To promote and attract tourism business, the Indian Railways Tuesday launched Bharat Gaurav trains that will be operated by private players and run on theme-based circuits. Through this policy, which offers operators the “Right of Use” of its rakes and infrastructure, the Railways has liberalised and simplified a part of operations that was otherwise carried out mostly by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). While any entity can run these trains, including state governments, it is implied that the policy is targeted at tour operators.
According to the Bharat Gaurav policy, any operator or service provider, or virtually anyone, can lease trains from Indian Railways to run on a theme-based circuit as a special tourism package. The tenure of the arrangement is a minimum of two years and maximum of the codal life of the coach. The operator has the freedom to decide the route, the halts, the services provided, and, most importantly, the tariff.
The IRCTC runs such theme-based tourist trains, for instance, the Ramayana Express, which goes on a tour of several places connected to Lord Ram.
In such packaged tours, typically the passengers stop over at a place, stay at hotels, undertake sightseeing, etc. — all organised by tour operators.
The Bharat Gaurav operator will also have to propose a similar business model wherein it takes care of local transport, sightseeing, food, local stays, etc. along with operating the trains.
Anyone can approach Railways to lease the 3033 conventional Integral Coach Factory-design coaches earmarked for this segment. In fact, if the operator finds it feasible, then it can even purchase rakes from Indian Railway production units and run them.
Each train will have between 14 and 20 coaches (including two guard coaches or SLR. The operator has to, however, take care of end-to-end, comprehensive service like hotel stay, local arrangements, etc. These trains cannot be used as ordinary transport trains between an origin and destination.
There will be a special unit created in each zonal railway to process such applications and also handhold applicants, and see end-to-end procedural requirements for the operators. These units will help operators in creation of itineraries, public outreach, carrying out necessary approvals and the likes. The idea is to provide the operators a place to go to, like a single-window for all their needs when they interact with railways, and not run from pillar to post.
The operator can carry out its own furnishings of the interiors of the trains if it wants within safety norms. It can decide what kind of interiors or berth composition it wants. However it cannot tinker with or dismantle critical parts of the coach that has a bearing on safety and operation.
It can name the circuit, the train and sell advertisement space. It can carry out branding on the exterior and interior of the train. It can tie up with agencies and entities for business development and logistics, etc. It can decide the food and entertainment to add to the experience of the passengers.
However, it has to be ensured that things that are not allowed by railway laws are also not carried out onboard these trains. For instance, the operator cannot serve alcohol, states the policy.
The policy is silent on whether non-vegetarian food would be allowed, but officials said there shouldn’t be any restriction as it is allowed on the Indian Railway trains.
The spirit of the policy is to give operators complete freedom to run the business and develop a business model in which Indian Railways will only physically run the trains, maintain them and charge a fee.
Conventional AC classes—I, II, III—have been earmarked along with non-AC Sleeper coaches, AC chair cars and pantry cars under this policy. The operator has the freedom to create a train with any mix depending on the type of clientele it will target. The coaches earmarked are in two age brackets– more than 15 and up to 20 years old and more than 20 and up to 25 years old. Charges for them will vary based on their age. Usually coaches are retired after 35 years. If the contract period ends when the coaches’ or the rake’s codal life is remaining, then the contract can be extended upon mutual consent. Linke Hoffmann Busch coaches or even Vande Bharat or Vista Dome coaches can also be included if there is a future demand, but the pricing will be different.
It will provide staff to drive the trains, guards and also maintenance staff on board for the coaches. Other staff, like housekeeping and catering, etc, will be deployed by the operator. It will also ensure that its entire infrastructure is in place to safely and efficiently host the train in its network. It will also give these priority in its paths, like the Rajdhanis and premium trains, so that these trains are not held up or sidelined to make way for regular trains.
The money works out to be substantial as it is a sum of registration fee, security deposit for the rake, “Right of Use” charges, haulage charges and stabling charges payable by the operator to the Railways. All these charges are linked to use of various components of railway resources, like fuel, manpower, depreciation, maintenance, lease, etc.
To begin with, the Railways will take a one-time online registration fee of Rs 1 lakh from the applicant. The zonal railway concerned will revert after processing the application within10 days.
Thereafter, after allotment of the rake, there is a security deposit of Rs 1 crore per rake (the physical assets comprise a collection of coaches pulled by an engine), irrespective of the size of the rake, for the duration of the Right of Use period.
The annual ‘Right of Use’ charges calculated on the basis of the type of coach taken and the duration. In Bharat Gaurav scheme, the first year’s Right of Use charges have to be paid upfront and the second year’s have to be paid 15 days before the completion of the preceding year. Delay in payment would result in a penalty equivalent to the bank’s prevailing interest rate plus 3 per cent as administrative fee. If it is not paid within 30 days, the Right of Use may be terminated.
The yearly Right of Use charge for one AC coach varies from Rs 3.5-1.4 lakh depending on class and age. A pantry car’s Right of Use charge is between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 65,000 depending on the age and type. For a non-AC sleeper coach, it is between Rs 1.8 lakh and Rs 96,000. These charges have been fixed for five years after which they may be revised. In case the coaches are owned by the operator or purchased by Railway factories directly, the Right of Use charges will not apply.
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