After deciding to try out giving private players a chance to operate passenger trains on its network, Indian Railways is looking for routes to launch this initiative soon.
So far, the busy sectors of Delhi-Lucknow and Mumbai-Shirdi have come up as frontrunners in internal considerations in the Railway Board. Other routes being assessed are Bengaluru-Chennai, Ahmedabad-Mumbai and Trivandrum-Kannur in Kerala. All are under 500 km distance, as per the policy decision taken.
While Delhi-Lucknow is a lucrative sector, currently served by some 50 trains every day, Mumbai-Shirdi — a popular pilgrimage destinations in India owing to the Shirdi Sai Temple — does not have too many trains and is the only route under consideration that is not served by a Shatabdi.
The capacity of the network in the 500-odd km between Delhi and Lucknow is choked with passengers as well as goods trains, and currently a heavily patronised Swarn Shatabdi takes 6.30 hours. The 330-km Mumbai-Shirdi route has two dedicated superfast trains, while other long-distance trains take a longer time. There are two available routes to connect the two places and feasibility is being assessed on both, sources said.
Go-ahead after worries over unions
The Indian Railways seems to have decided to take the plunge after toying for years with the idea of private players running passenger trains. It has decided to parley with trade unions to get them on board. There had been apprehensions that since running trains is a loss-making business, due to subsidised fares, private players may not be interested. And whether it would be prudent for the government to offer demand-heavy, lucrative routes to private players.
The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will be given two trains to run initially. Officials are hopeful they will be able to run at least one train within 100 days, sources told The Indian Express. IRCTC will decide the minimum specifications of on-board amenities and the ticket cost. The custody of the trains will be with the PSU, which will pay for it, including their lease charges, to the financing arm, IRFC.
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