The government itself might not have expected the kind of enthusiasm among the private players to run trains in the Indian Railways created infrastructure. This is the first time the Indian Railways is allowing private entities to own and run trains on its tracks. The idea was floated by Prime Minister Modi even at the election rallies of 2014, which catapulted him to the highest political position in the country. He used to pose this question; if private and public buses can be plied on roads built by the government and if private and public airlines can operate out of airports built by the government, why can’t private players run trains on government constructed rail tracks?
It appears he has taken almost six years to make that possible. To be fair to the government, the concept of Tejas Express where private players are running trains is already implemented on a couple of routes. But this is the first time a large-scale project of this kind is being contemplated. The hints were given in the Union Budget itself (one of the first things done by the NDA government after it came to power in 2014 was to scrap the practice of presenting a separate budget), when Nirmala Sitharaman had said 100 routes are being opened up for private players to bid for and operate around 150 trains.
The companies now wanting to be part of this private participation in running trains across the country are many, domestic and foreign. The list of Indian companies is led by the Tata Group. Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Hitachi India and South Asia, Essel Group, Adani Ports and SEZ and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) are some of the companies to have shown interest. Alstom Transport, Bombardier, Siemens AG, Hyundai Rotem Company and Macquarie are all the foreign players with the desire to become part of this new project.
The Railways will divide the 100 routes into clusters based on various factors and ask these companies to bid. There are some basic conditions being laid out. The trains have to have a minimum of 16 coaches each and the maximum will be in line with what already exists on the same route. If Indian Railways has a train carrying 21 coaches, then the private player cannot run their train with more than 21 coaches. The maximum speed allowed is 160 Kmpl.
Mumbai-New Delhi, Chennai to New Delhi, New Delhi to Howrah, Shalimar to Pune, New Delhi to Patna are some of the routes.
The significant concession being offered to the private operators will be a 15-minute head-start to them on the route assigned to them. This means once the private train is flagged off from its originating station, no other train will depart from that station on that route.
The private operator will have the freedom to fix the fare for the journey.