Modi Expected to Flag off IRCTC’s Third Train in Varanasi This Week

The move is widely seen as a precursor to full-fledged private rail operations, whose bidding process will start in a month.

New Delhi: Buoyed by the successful run of two trains on a special fare structure, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) will be operating a third train from next week between Indore and Varanasi.

Sources say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to flag off the Humsafar service, named as ‘Kashi Mahakal Express’, with state-of-the-art facilities on February 16 from Varanasi with much fanfare. The overnight train will cater to the increased demand of the passengers connecting Lucknow, Kanpur, Bina, Bhopal and Ujjain along the busy routes.

IRCTC, a railways PSU, is currently operating two Tejas service between New Delhi-Lucknow and Mumbai-Ahmedabad. On these trains, passengers have to pay 20% to 30% more than the regular service as the fare is determined through dynamic fare system.

Though IRCTC-run trains cannot strictly be described as a privately-operated train, since the PSU is under the administrative control of the Indian Railways, it is widely perceived as a pilot run before 150 trains are allowed to be run by players from the private sector.

While IRCTC decides the fare structure and is responsible for providing on-board amenities – including catering, the safety. Security entailing the signaling system, loco drivers, platform and stations are with the Railways.

According to the mutually agreed arrangement, IRCTC will pay about Rs 1000 per km as haulage charge to the Railways for availing the railway system, including trains and infrastructure.

Started last month, the Mumbai Tejas Express is running with full occupancy and the revenue collection is ranging between Rs 11.1 lakh and Rs 11.5 lakh per day.

Also Read: As Buzz Builds Around IRCTC’s Tejas Express, Will Privatisation Take Wing?

However, the Lucknow Tejas launched in October last year, is currently having about 80% occupancy. The revenue earning ranges between Rs 9 and Rs 10 lakh a day.

While the Tejas service is equipped with all AC Executive and Chair Car seating arrangement and meant for a day-long journey, Humsafar is for overnight travel with a full three-tier AC service. The Kashi-Mahakal Express will have 15 AC coaches, a modular pantry and two power cars.

According to sources, since the revenue collection based on the dynamic fare system for the Tejas Express is fairly okay, the Railways decided to give another train to the IRCTC to run between Indore and Varanasi.

Narendra Modi Dumka

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking in Dumka, Jharkhand on Sunday. Photo: PTI

Tender to be called for private players soon

Meanwhile, going ahead with the process of handing over 150 trains to private players, the Railways will float the tender inviting the probable bidders to participate in the race shortly.

The tender document is being finalised and it would be floated by the month-end, said a senior railway ministry official.

The Rs 22,500 crore private train operation project entails operation of 150 trains on 100 routes across the country. Trains connecting all major destinations like Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Patna, Ranchi, Bhopal, Varanasi and Lucknow are on the offer.

Private players are expected to introduce modern trains with 16 coaches, each equipped with upgraded facilities which include better interiors, comfortable seats, onboard entertainment, modular clean bio-vacuum toilets, good food served in an overall better hygienic condition.

There are many global players from France, the US, Spain, Japan, South Korea and China who have evinced keen interest to run trains in the country. Major rolling stock companies such as Talgo, Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens, Hyundai, Macquarie, Hitachi and CRRC have also shown interest, while top domestic giants like Tata and Adani are also expected to enter the race.

Also Read: Faced With Mounting Losses, Indian Railways Starts New Year With a Fare Hike

Among the Indian companies, Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Medha, Bharat Forge, BEML, IRCTC, RK Associates, Gatx, Essel Group, Adani Ports and SEZ were present in the stakeholders meet and are expected to be in the race to run private trains in the country.

Facing a loss of over Rs 40,000 crore in the passenger business, the Railways has recently hiked the fare from January 1, 2020. While there is no increase in fares of suburban services, in the case of non-suburban services, a nominal increase of one paisa per km has been done. In the case of non-AC and AC classes in Mail and Express trains, the fare has been increased by two paise per km and 4 paise per km respectively.

Though the Railways aims to mop up Rs 2,300 crore in a year from the recent fare hike, the passenger business is facing a huge loss. Since freight businesses earn profits, the passenger service is cross-subsidised from it.

Arun Kumar Das can be contacted at akdas2005@gmail.com.