After much speculation, Indian Railways has decided to allow private entities to operate passenger trains on its routes. Niti Aayog had recently moved a draft document for discussion on private participation in Railways. All stakeholders have time till January 17 to provide a written response to Niti Aayog’s proposal. In 2018–19, reserved passenger volume was 16% of the total non-suburban passengers (3.65 billion). Almost 8.85 crore of wait-listed passengers could not be accommodated due to the limitations of trains. Thus, the railways proposed a plan to include private players in 100 routes across the country. The move began last year with the introduction of Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).

1) Indian Railways has prepared a list of 100 routes for the introduction of 150 private trains across India. The 100 routes have been split into 10–12 clusters.

2) Mumbai-New Delhi, Chennai to New Delhi, New Delhi to Howrah, Shalimar to Pune, New Delhi to Patna are some of the routes where the private trains will operate. Once the dedicated freight corridors will be completed in 2021, additional paths will be available for the operation of passenger trains on some routes.

3) Each new train shall have a minimum of 16 coaches. The maximum number of coaches shall not exceed the longest passenger train operating on the respective route. Passengers’ trains are allowed to run at a maximum speed of 160 kmph.

4) Niti Aayog draft said the time taken by a private train to complete a path shall be comparable to the fastest train of Indian Railways operating on that path with a variation of plus or minus 10%.

5) Private trains running on a particular route will have a head start of 15 minutes on other trains running on the same route. “No similar scheduled regular train will depart in the same origin-destination route within 15 minutes of the scheduled operation of the concessionaires (private players) train,” the document said.

6) Private entities are encouraged to use the latest technologies and top quality features in the trains. From passenger safety to modern GPS enabled announcement system, Indian Railways has made a list of the new technologies that private trains may include in them:

a) Private trains should have modern design bogies, stainless steel exteriors or aluminum exteriors and brake systems. Improved safety features with fire retardant interiors, modern couplers with anti-climbing features must be there.

b) Trains must have folding steps for easy access to physically challenged passengers.

c) GPS-enabled passenger announcement system for onboard announcements for station arrivals, time to next station or destination, safety announcements should be included as well.

d) Private trains must ensure optimum passenger comfort through the use of bogies with superior ride index, efficient air conditioning with automatic temperature and humidity control, superior interiors and toilets.

7) The private entity will have the last say on deciding the fare on a particular route. They shall be responsible for financing, procuring, operation and maintenance of the trains.

8) The safety certification of the rakes before each commercial service shall be done by Indian Railways based on the safety parameters indicated by Indian Railways.

9) Indian Railways will choose private entities through a two-stage competitive bidding process — Request for Qualification (RFQ) and Request for Proposal (RFP). RFQ process will be for pre-qualification and shortlisting of bidders based on their technical and financial capacity who will be required to offer a fixed price bid at the RFP stage for undertaking the project.

10) Last year, Indian Railways commissioned IRCTC to run private trains on its routes after which IRCTC launched Tejas Express on the Delhi Lucknow route. Another Tejas Express connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad route will start its journey from January 17. To improve punctuality and passenger experience, IRCTC has introduced a host of new features with the Tejas Express.

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