Luxury train travel in India is a novelty experience and one that draws, among others, thousands of foreign tourists to the country. But these luxury train services have seen revenues taking a hit over the years. This year alone, revenue from the Palace on Wheels and Royal Rajasthan trains dropped by at least 24 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively.
Dwindling revenues of the “royal trains” have now prompted the Railways to cut down tariff so that the services could become more affordable and their popularity is restored. To this effect, the Railways decided to cut down haulage charges for royal trains such as the Palace on Wheels, Maharaja Express, Deccan Odyssey, Royal Orient and Golden Chariot by up to 50 per cent. The decision was taken at the Railway Board’s policy review meeting.
The haulage charges are borne by entities like the IRCTC, state tourism departments and other bodies that partner with the Indian Railways for running these train services.
Earlier this year, the Railways agreed to Karnataka government’s demand to operate the luxury train service Golden Chariot on a revenue-share model. The idea was to reduce the fare and ultimately increase the number of passengers.
Nevertheless, the move to revive the services goes beyond just a simple cut in tariffs. The board decided that private individuals will now be able to book the luxury salons, a legacy of the British railway tradition, or inspection coaches which were earlier off limits for them. These saloons were usually used by India’s President, Prime Minister and high-ranking railway officials.
Private persons will now be able to book these two-bedroom carriages with an on-board attached, private lounge, kitchen and bathroom. The railways currently owns and operates 336 salon cars, of which 62 are air conditioned.
A parliamentary panel report published in January 2018 listed hundreds of passengers, most of them railway officials, as freeloaders who got complimentary tickets for travel on luxury trains on recommendations of Railways officials and those of the IRCTC. The prices of these complimentary tickets were usually around $500 to $600.
“The committee are dismayed to note that the provision of complimentary travel is continuing in these luxury trains on the recommendation of either Railway Board or IRCTC or state tourism development corporation,” said the committee’s report chaired by Sudip Bandyopadhyay. The report also noted these trains were running at an average occupancy of around 30 per cent.
“The committee fails to understand the need to provide complimentary travel when these luxury trains have hardly been generating the revenue to meet their own working expenses. As a public entity financed by the budget, the Railways… have no right to misuse the taxpayers’ money by providing advances to some people in the form of complimentary travel in these luxury trains,” the committee noted in the report.