The Indian Railways on Wednesday kick-started the process to allow private players to operate certain trains on its network by inviting Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for operation of passenger train services on over 100 routes with 150 modern trains.
The Ministry of Railways said this is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over the Indian Railways network and will attract investments of about ₹30,000 crore.
“Ministry of Railways has invited RFQ for private participation for operation of passenger train services over 109 Origin Destination (OD) pairs of routes through introduction of 151 modern Trains…Each Train shall have a minimum of 16 coaches,” the national transporter said in a statement.
It added that the objective of the initiative was 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, and also reduce demand supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector.
The Delhi-Lucknow Tejas is the first train that is not operated by the Indian Railways, as Railways geared up to allow private train operators. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation(IRCTC), which is a public sector undertaking, was entrusted with running the train, in addition to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Tejas and the Kashi Mahakal Express (between Varanasi and Indore).
The Railways said “majority” of trains will be manufactured in India and the private entity will be responsible for financing, procuring, operation and maintenance of the trains, which will 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 will be comparable to or faster than the fastest train of Indian Railways operating in the respective route,” the Railways said.
The “Concession Period” for the project will be 35 years, and the private entity will 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.
These trains will be operated by drivers and guards of the Indian Railways. “The operation of the trains by the private entity shall conform to the key performance indicators like punctuality, reliability, upkeep of trains, etc. Operation and maintenance of the passenger trains would be governed by standards & specifications and requirements specified by Indian Railways,” it said.
With traffic earnings dropping by a whopping 58% in the pandemic scenario, the Indian Railways, as part of an elaborate cost-cutting plan, has decided to allow sponsorship of trains and stations, and the use of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds for cleaning activities.
“Sponsorship with suitable branding of trains/stations and use of CSR for cleaning activity may be explored for resultant savings in expenditure. If NGOs want to adopt stations for cleaning activity, it may be permitted by Divisional Railway Managers with the condition that it should result in savings…suitable display of their name, logo. etc may be allowed similar to that permitted in the CSR policy,” the advisory said.
In a strategy to control expenditure and enhance earnings, the Ministry of Railways has already rolled out austerity and cost control measures last month, which included a ban on creation of new posts, reduction in Over Time/Travelling Allowance by 50%, pruning computerised passenger reservation counters, grounding of all diesel locomotives that are more than 31 years old through sale/export, fuel savings, energy audit and closure of uneconomical railway lines to the extent possible.
A couple of days ago, an advisory was sent to General Managers of all Zonal Railways to review the cost of housekeeping of trains and stations. The note said that with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, passenger carrying trains were likely to have lesser occupancy. However, the requirements of frequent cleaning and disinfection could increase.
Maintenance officials were told to link the number of cleaning staff in each shift at railway stations to the footfalls. Automatic Coach Washing Plants were to be deployed more to rationalise manpower requirements. Though the existing criteria was that all trains, except purely night trains (10 p.m to 6 a.m) would be eligible for coverage under the On Board Housekeeping Services (OBHS), the time limits need not be rigidly applied in each case, the directive said. If need be, some trains left out of OBHS could be provided additional time for cleaning in en route stations.
Authorising General Managers to enhance the price of platform tickets to regulate rush, the advisory said entry to railway station premises should be restricted to bonafide passengers/platform ticket holders. To convey a clear message to the public, enforcement of Indian Railway (Penalties for activities affecting cleanliness at railway premises) Rules, 2012 (Anti-littering Rules) may be intensified.