The railway ministry on Wednesday began the formal process to allow a private company to run trains on 109 routes — a process that aims to, for the first time, open up one of the government’s most prominent enterprises that has in recent decades been outpaced by the demands of a rapidly growing economy.
The ministry issued what is known as a request for qualification (RFQ) for a private company to run 151 trains spread over these routes, laying down specific conditions that will need to be met in a move that is meant to “introduce modern technologies and world class services” for one of India’s most popular modes of transport.
“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” the ministry said on Wednesday. “The objective of this initiative is to introduce modern technology rolling stock with reduced maintenance, reduced transit time, boost job creation, provide enhanced safety, provide world class travel experience to passengers,” it said.
The ministry said the planned investment will come to around ₹30,000 crore, the rakes will need to be manufactured in India, and the private entity shall be responsible for financing, procuring, operation and maintenance of the trains.
“Trains shall be designed for a maximum speed of 160 kmph. There would be a substantial reduction in journey time. The running time taken by a train shall be comparable to or faster than the fastest train of Indian Railways operating in the respective route,” the ministry’s release said.
The initiative for private investment for running passenger trains began in a limited way last year with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) — a Railways subsidiary — introducing the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express. Currently, IRCTC operates three trains — the Kashi Mahakal Express on the Varanasi-Indore route, the Lucknow-New Delhi Tejas and the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Tejas. These are the only ones not run by the Indian Railways itself, as has been the practice in its 167-year history.
Opposition leaders criticised the move. “Now the govt is in a desperate mood to sell a great chunk of one of our largest national asset #IndianRailways, privatization cannot be construed as a panacea of railways malady, it is the inefficiency of the railways itself,” said Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who was the junior railway minister in the United Progressive Alliance – 2 government.
Hindustan Times reported in September that the national carrier is considering the idea of handing over operations of more trains to private players on several important routes with improved services and amenities for passengers.
It proposed the following routes for long distance travel: Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Lucknow, Delhi-Jammu/Katra, Delhi-Howrah, Secunderabad-Hyderabad, Secunderabad-Delhi, Delhi- Chennai, Mumbai-Chennai, Howrah-Chennai and Howrah-Mumbai.
In October, the Union government and the think-tank Niti Aayog decided to set up a task force “drive the process”. On January 7, the ministry and the government’s think-tank Niti Aayog uploaded a draft RFQ, expanding the number of routes to 100 from the previously planned 50 routes.
According to Wednesday’s statement, the “private entity shall pay to Indian Railways fixed haulage charges, energy charges as per actual consumption and a share in gross revenue determined through a transparent bidding process”.
The operation will have to conform to key performance indicators like punctuality, reliability, upkeep of trains etc, the ministry said.