New Delhi: The New Delhi-Lucknow Tejas Express, India’s first attempt at ‘privatising’ its railway routes, will not have a fixed fare but instead offer dynamic pricing that competes with air travel.
Earlier this month, it was reported that the government would hand over custody of the train to Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a railways public sector unit PSU, as part of its attempt to encourage privatisation in the national transporter.
According to sources, IRCTC will pay nearly Rs 13 lakh per day in haulage and lease charges and is expected to generate about Rs 16 lakh to 17 lakh per day in revenue.
The handing over of the Lucknow-Tejas’s operations is part of the Narendra Modi government’s 100-day action plan. Its success, government sources say, is crucial as it would pave the way for handing over about 100 more trains to private players for which a policy is currently being formulated.
The broader proposal for the privatisation of the Indian Railways has sparked protests across the country by worker unions.
While giving IRCTC custody of the train can’t strictly be called privatisation, the idea is to hand over two routes as a pilot project whereby on-board services would be outsourced to private players through an open bidding process.
The larger proposed policy would allow private players control over 25 routes, including metros and regional hubs.
Sources say that the policy currently in the making envisages private players to bring in their own rakes or acquire trains on long lease from the Railways to run across the country. Currently the Railways has 2,800 rakes, of which a minimum of 5% is being considered to be offered on lease to private players.
However, the core function of train running such as drivers, guards, tracks, signalling, train charting and safety will remain with the national transporter. On the other hand, ticket pricing, catering, onboard housekeeping, linens, ticket checking and amenities will be the responsibility of the private operator.
While the New Delhi-Lucknow Tejas Express will be IRCTC’s first route, another one will be shortly allotted. The railway PSU is also in negotiation with Uttar Pradesh government over showcasing its welfare programmes and the state’s tourist spots as advertisements.
The 13-coach Tejas Express for Lucknow will have an assured path to reach destinations on time, with just one stop at Kanpur.
Sources say that there will also be a provision for offering a free meal to passengers in case the train is delayed by more than 30 minutes.
The train, which has about 1,000 seats currently, will also add another 500 gradually with the additional of five more coaches.
Besides quality catering, the train will offer door-to-door service, specially designed board room cabin for meeting, birthday or marriage anniversary parties and shopping trolleys for buying goods like chocolates and perfume among many other services as a package to attract clients.
“We will try to cater to passengers whatever is legally allowed onboard,” a source involved in finalising the details told The Wire.
If a passenger wants to be picked up from his residence and also dropped at his destination, he would have to pay for all additional services. The train will also have welcome service as all passengers would be received and ushered in to their respective seats. There will also be private ticket-checking staff.
Currently more than 50 trains – including a Shatabdi service – and about 30 flights are operational between New Delhi and Lucknow. The two cities are also connected by a well-built highway that facilitates road connectivity.
Though the Tejas Express ticket will be less than equivalent airfare, it will be difficult for IRCTC to depend on just fare collection. That is why we are exploring various ways to attract passengers, sources said and added if everything goes as per the plan then it could achieve break-even in three years.
The Tejas Express will have modern facilities such as aircraft-like personalised LCD entertainment-cum-information screens, on-board Wi-Fi facility, comfortable seats, mobile charging points, personalised reading lights, modular bio-toilets and sensor tap fittings among others.
The train will take approximately six-and-a-half hours to cover the distance between Delhi and Lucknow and it will run on all days of the week except Thursday and Sunday.
The Lucknow-New Delhi Tejas Express will leave the Lucknow junction at 6.50 am to reach New Delhi at 1.35 pm. The New Delhi-Lucknow Tejas Express will leave from New Delhi station at 3.35 pm to arrive in Lucknow at 10.05 pm.
Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist and can be contacted at [email protected].