Marking a First

Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express spearheads privatisation in railways

The country’s first private train, the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express commenced commercial operations in October 2019. The train with its modern features offers world-class travel experience and comfort to its passengers, particularly business travellers. Indian Railways (IR) has entrusted the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) with the task of operating the premium train. IRCTC has been given the freedom to decide the fares and has also been given the liberty to earn non-fare revenues by way of advertising. The operator, however, will have to pay haulage charges to IR for each trip on a monthly basis and is also required to pay charges for the custody of the train.

The train has reduced the travel time between Lucknow and Delhi to six hours and fifteen minutes from six hours and forty minutes taken by the Swarn Shatabdi, previously the fastest train on the route. It runs six days a week and stops only at Ghaziabad and Kanpur. The train has a total carrying capacity of 758 passengers. It has one executive class with 56 seats and nine chair cars with a capacity of 78 seats each.

The launch of the Tejas Express has not only played an important role in transforming passenger experience but has also paved the way for introducing more private trains as proposed by IR under its 100-day plan.

Salient features

The Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express has several new features. It has modern coaches with state of-the-art interiors, automatic doors, braille-integrated seat numbers, personalised reading lights, mobile charging points, attendant calling buttons, wide luggage rack, CCTV cameras, fire and smoke detection and suppression systems, modular bio-toilets with sensor-based fittings, etc. IRCTC has also taken eco-friendly measures such as the use of biodegradable packaged drinking water bottles. On board the Tejas Express, IRCTC will have its own staff such as ticket checkers and service crew. However, the loco pilots and guards will be from IR.

Passengers can book tickets for the train via IRCTC’s website or its mobile application. There will be no booking at railway reservation counters. Moreover, the train will have an advance reservation booking period of 60 days unlike the 120-day advance booking allowed across the railway network. There will be no facility of tatkal tickets or last-moment reservations for the Tejas Express. The train follows a dynamic fare rule like airfares. It has different series of fares for lean, busy and festive seasons. While IR has the provision for providing tickets at concessional rates to 53 categories including senior citizens, differently abled passengers, etc., there will be no concessions on this train.

IRCTC has also started a unique refund scheme with the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express. The operator will pay Rs 100 as compensation to each passenger every time the train is delayed by more than one hour and Rs 250 in case of a delay of more than two hours. Further, for the first time, all passengers travelling on the train will be provided with free rail travel insurance of Rs 2.5 million. The complimentary insurance also includes coverage of Rs 100,000 to passengers against theft or robbery during travel.

Another unique service offered by IRCTC will be door-to-door luggage pick-up and delivery services. Passengers will also be given the facility to use retiring rooms at the Lucknow station and the executive lounge at the New Delhi railway station. IRCTC will also extend on demand taxi hiring and hotel booking facilities to passengers.

Financial performance

The train has witnessed a steady start, making a profit of Rs 7 million in the first month of operations. This has made Tejas Express the first passenger train to have given returns to IR whose earnings mainly come from freight trains. The total revenue earned by Tejas Express through the sale of tickets during October 5 to October 28, 2019, stood at Rs 37 million. It ran with an average occupancy of 80-85 per cent during the period.

While IRCTC spent an average of Rs 1.4 million per day to run the state-of-the-art train, it earned around Rs 1.75 million daily from passenger fares. The dynamic fare system is a major factor that helped the operator in reaping profits. While the base fare for a chair car seat is Rs 1,180, the fare soared to Rs 3,295 on a few days during the festive season in October. Similarly, the base fare for an executive coach seat is Rs 2,400 per passenger. But during periods of peak demand the fare increased to more than Rs 4,000.

Second private train

IR has introduced the second private train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The train, being operated by IRCTC, began commercial operations from January 19, 2020, after its inaugural run on January 17. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad Tejas Express runs six days a week and completes its journey in a total of six hours and thirty-five minutes. It halts at the Nadiad, Vadodara, Bharuch, Surat, Vapi and Borivali stations. The fully air-conditioned train has two executive class chair cars with 56 seats each and eight chair cars with 78 seats each. The total carrying capacity of the train is 736 passengers.

The way forward

The successful launch of the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express is IR’s first step towards expanding the private train network in the country. The national transporter had initially mulled the idea of allowing private operators to run trains on key routes under its 100-day plan. The introduction of private passenger trains is expected to help the railways in introducing advanced technology and modern rolling stock with reduced maintenance. It will also allow IR to offer a world-class experience to passengers and help in reducing the supply-demand deficit.

In December 2019, IR’s proposal for inducting 150 private trains on 100 routes was approved by the finance ministry’s Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee. Bids for the routes are likely to be invited soon. Recently, NITI Aayog and IR came out with a discussion paper for running private trains, envisaging an investment of Rs 225 billion. Earlier, in October 2019, the Railway Board had formed an empowered group of secretaries headed by the chief executive officer of NITI Aayog to chalk out the modalities of the bidding process and take other decisions to fast-track awarding of bids to private players.

The 100 routes identified by the railways in consultation with the government think tank have been divided into 10-12 clusters. Some of the major long distance routes identified for bidding are the Mumbai-Kolkata, Mumbai-Chennai, Mumbai-Guwahati, New Delhi-Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram-Guwahati, New Delhi-Kolkata, New Delhi-Bengaluru, New Delhi-Chennai, Kolkata-Chennai and Chennai-Jodhpur stretches. According to the plan, domestic as well global players with experience in the railway and tourism sectors will be allowed to bid for the routes on a revenue-sharing basis. The private operator will have the right to collect market-linked fares and will be provided the flexibility to decide class composition and halts.

While the introduction of private trains is expected to offer a plethora of benefits for both IR and passengers, the coordination with the private operators may pose challenges. In the case of Tejas Express, the operator is IRCTC, a subsidiary of IR. But partnership with external private players might take some time to work out.

Shunyam Nanda

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