Railway Board Chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav makes it amply clear that the Indian Railways is readying bidding documents to bring in private train operators. In an interview with ET Magazine, Yadav explains why the railways needs private trains, and how and where these will be rolled out. Edited excerpts:
Why is the railways planning to bring in private trains?
By December 2021, we should be able to complete our dedicated freight corridors (DFCs) connecting Delhi and Mumbai, and Delhi and Howrah [Kolkata]. At present, the permissible maximum speed for freight trains is 60 kmph. But the DFCs are being developed for 100 kmph. All this would mean that 90% of freight traffic on these routes will shift to DFCs.
Meanwhile, the Union cabinet has approved nearly Rs 13,000 crore to upgrade the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata stretches for trains running at 160 kmph.
So, in four to five years, we will be able to run trains according to demand. There will be no waiting lists. But that will also mean that a large number of new trains will be required. The role of the private trains comes in here.
But the railways can also manufacture more trains and fill the gap. Why do we need private trains?
Private operators are expected to bring in their own trainsets, state-of-the-art technology and innovative ways of providing passenger amenities and finding new luggage-handling solutions.
To prove the concept of private train operations works, we recently handed over two luxurious rakes called Tejas to our own company, IRCTC. It is an experiment before allowing pure private operators. Now, IRCTC has announced value additions such as Rs 25 lakh insurance on every ticket, wheelchairs, home pick-up and delivery of luggage, etc. IRCTC can even pick you up from your home and drop you at the station. In Delhi and Lucknow (to be connected by the IRCTC-run train by October 4), passengers can also avail accommodation at retiring rooms.
How many private trains will there be? And where will they run?
The railways will have 150 private trains to start with. We are still working on the routes that will go for bidding. We will run these trains in the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah corridors and also in other viable stretches.
Will it be mandatory for private operators to manufacture coaches and locos in India?
During bidding, we will give options — import, buy rakes from an Indian company or from us. They can get coaches on lease too. But our expectation is that new types of trainsets will arrive.
How much investment are you expecting from private players? When will these trains start running?
We can’t give the exact investment numbers as yet. These are being worked out. We are hoping private trains should run by 2023-24. And for that to happen, the bidding process needs to be initiated soon.
But who will be the arbitrator if the railways fails to honour its commitments?
When private train operators are brought in, we will need a regulator. The regulator will take a call on disputes, including those on routes and fares.
But the railways has faced criticism for not being able to successfully run private container trains, which have been around for 13 years.
We regularly sit down with private container operators. Their problems are being sorted out. The operators feel they are unable to compete with Container Corporation of India. It is a railway PSU and a big player.
You have also decided to corporatise production units despite opposition from workers. Why?
The corporatisation of production units is essential because we will need more coaches and locomotives fit for 160 kmph. Once more autonomy is given, our production units will bring in new technology and produce rolling stocks for internal consumption and for export. There is a huge demand of rolling stocks from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Australia may also show interest. It has already imported some coaches.
We are debating whether we should have one holding company or two to club our eight production units. One argument is that we should have two PSUs — one for locos and one for coaches.
But trade unions are opposed to private trains. How will you deal with that situation?
Before taking a final decision, we will consult all stakeholders, which include trade unions. We will ensure interests of railway employees are fully protected.
*This interview was first published by The Economic Times Business News