Indian Railways has decided to lease passenger train coaches to private parties who can run them as theme-based circuit trains. The initiative has been taken in an attempt to spread rail-based tourism among the masses in the country, a statement issued by the railway ministry on Saturday said.
According to the Ministry of Railways, interested private parties will be able to lease coaching stock to run them as theme-based cultural, religious and other Tourist Circuit trains. This has been decided to tap the potential of the tourism sector and to leverage the core strengths of the professionals of the tourism sector in tourism activities like marketing, hospitality, integration of services, reach with customer base, expertise in development /identification of tourist circuits etc, the ministry statement said.
Apart from leasing coaching stock, the interested can also purchase the coaches to run the theme-based trains. The trains will be hauled by locomotives operated by Indian Railways, as the private parties will lease/purchase only the coaches, not locomotives or generator cars.
The private operators will be allowed to lease coaches as per the desired configuration and will be allowed to make minor refurbishments of the coaches. Apart from this, base shells also may be taken on lease.
Coaches can be leased for a minimum period of 5 years, which can be extended up to the life of the coaches. The private operators will have to comply with the minimum train composition as per policy guidelines. They will develop the business model to run the theme-based trains, like the route, itinerary, tariff etc.
The operators will need to pay haulage charges, nominal stabling charges, and lease charges in case the coaches are leased. The Railways has promised priority in punctuality, timely approvals for coach refurbishment and itineraries, zero haulage charge for maintenance runs. Third-party advertising inside the trains and branding of the trains will be permitted.
An Executive Director level committee has been constituted by the Ministry of Railways to formulate the policy and terms and conditions for this scheme.
This initiative to allow theme-based private circuit coaches come after the Railways had to terminate the tendering process to run private passenger trains in the country. While initially, a large number of private companies had shown interest in the scheme, most of them withdrew from the bidding process due to various issues. While more than a dozen companies were found qualified, only two had submitted financial bids. Participating companies withdrew from bidding due to the lack of a regulatory authority and commitment of equal opportunities.
Bidders were concerned about the dual roles the Railways was going to play both as a competitor and the regulator. They had objected to penalty over delay in train operations, when private parties will have no control on running of the trains, which are to be hauled by Indian Railways locomotives operated by drivers and guards of Indian Railways.
Bidders were also concerned about the lack of commitment by the Indian Railways to accord priority to private trains on departure and arrival, maintenance slots, platform allocation, and station halts along a route on which Railways also ran trains. Moreover, train fares are to be fixed by Indian Railways, and the bidders were worried that they won’t earn much after paying haulage charge, station usage charge and revenue share to the Railways.