1. What the term 'private train' means in India
The concept of private rail and trains is not new globally, with countries like Japan having an established network. In India, the Railway Board has made it clear that none of the physical operations and infrastructure – including safety-related operations – will be handled by private players. In Tejas, the locomotives, coaches, loco pilots and security personnel are provided by the Railways, while onboard services such as ticketing, catering and housekeeping were managed by private contractors entrusted by IRCTC.
2. Facilities for passengers
In the first Tejas, a bold move of compensating passengers for train delays on an hourly basis was introduced by the Railways, which has traditionally faced heat for lack of punctuality. In addition, a free insurance of Rs 25 lakh was lined up for every passenger. The trains will have modern facilities like air-conditioned coaches, CCTV cameras, LED TVs, automatic doors, bio-toilets and mobile charging points, in addition to clean and high-quality food offered on board by staff, just as it is done on an commercial aircraft. The trains will be following a dynamic pricing system, already available in premium trains of the Indian Railways.
3. Road-ahead plans
A concept paper floated by Niti Aayog states that 100 paths will be bundled into 10-12 clusters covering 150 trains. This may unwind an investment opportunity of Rs 22,500 crore from national and international private players having a minimum net worth of Rs 450 crore each. Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav said the bids that will be floated in this regard very soon, will be based on a revenue-sharing model. The concession period given for companies will be 35 years.
The investors may be allowed to provide value-added services, and procure technology-agnostic rakes. The two-stage bidding process consisting of Request for Qualification and Request for Proposal, is expected to be over within this calendar year. Each bidder may be eligible for a maximum of three clusters of the 12 available, in order to improve services and encourage competition.
The private players will be given access to tracks and signaling networks based on fixed haulage charges mentioned during the time of bidding. This is likely to be different for each route. The company may also get access to Railways' depot site and washing line. The Railways will also be issuing a safety certification ahead of each trip.
4. Challenges before Railways
A major challenge before Indian Railways will be the management of ticket-pricing in a dynamic system. It would be market-linked pricing, in order to obviate overpricing. Ensuring the safety and security of passengers while keeping private parties happy will be another challenge. If the board asks private parties to dole out sops like compensating for delays, punctuality should also improve across the country. Similarly, infrastructure capability of tracks should also be improved, as planned in the Mumbai-Delhi and Delhi-Mumbai routes, where the existing tracks, signalling and speed of the trains will be improved. To bring in more private players, the average and maximum speeds of passenger trains should also be raised from the existing 40-45 km per hour and 160 kmph, respectively.