An Indian Railways goods train | Photo: ANI
An Indian Railways goods train (representational image) | ANI

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New Delhi: Taking the first step in divesting its near-total monopoly in the Railways, the Narendra Modi government Wednesday invited Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for private players for the operation of passenger train services on 109 Origin Destination (OD) pairs of routes through introduction of 151 modern trains.

The Railways had picked about 100 routes to run 150 private passenger trains in December last year. 

The operation of these passenger trains is a part of a project that “would entail private sector investment of about Rs 30,000 crore,” the Railways Ministry said in a statement. 

“This is the first initiative of private investment for running passenger trains over Indian Railways network,” it added.

The announcement of seeking private participation in operating passenger trains could effectively alter the very landscape of the railway network and would for the first time diminish the national transporter’s overarching control on trains, tracks and manpower. 

“Inviting RFQ is just like an expression of interest,” said a senior railway official. “The logistics will be decided gradually… Naturally, the private operators will choose their technology and determine the fare. But certain aspects like safety, time-tabling of trains etc. will stay with the railways,” he added.

Keeping the time-tabling with the Railways would be important to ensure that all the busy time slots are not taken by private players, the official said. 

“RFQ is the first step of the process, in which it will be gauged who are the parties eligible, whether they have the technical know-how or not, etc… After the RFQ, there would be an RFP (Request for Proposal), which can be called the bidding process,” the railway official said.

The official also added the Railways would subsequently constitute a Rail Development Authority — an independent body to decide rail fares to ensure pricing is commensurate with the expenses.


Also read: Stray trains: Poor planning by Indian Railways or overwhelming load on some routes?


‘Objective is to introduce modern tech’ 

On private participation in the Railways, the ministry, in its statement, said majority of the trains would be manufactured in India in the future, and the private entity will be responsible for financing, procuring, operation and maintenance of the trains. 

“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, and also reduce demand supply deficit in the passenger transportation sector,” the ministry said. 

It further said each train would have a minimum of 16 coaches and be designed for a maximum speed of 160 km/h. 

“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 added. 

Further, the ministry announced that the private entity shall pay fixed haulage charges and energy charges according to actual consumption, and a share in gross revenue determined through a transparent bidding process.

‘Private players will get operations’

In an interview to ThePrint in February this year, Railway Board Chairman V.K. Yadav had said as the Indian Railways bolsters its capacity, it will likely lead to a demand for more trains. 

It is to meet this demand that the government has come up with the idea of private train operators, he had said. 

“It is to meet this demand, we have already invited bids for 150 trains. If you see, it is not a very large number — we run 13,000 passenger trains, out of that 150 is a very small number,” he had said.

Depending on the success of private train operators, the number can be expanded. However, he had clarified that the existing trains will continue to be with the railways, with operations staying with the transporter too.

“Private players will not get operations — driver, guard, safety certification, infrastructure will remain with railways,” he had said. “Private players will only get on-board services — entertainment, food, cleanliness, passenger amenities, fare collection.”


Also read: No new posts, remove re-engaged staff — austerity measures by Railways to soften Covid blow


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