The Indian Railways seem all set to take a massive leap with the private sector playing a crucial role in the upcoming years. Railway Board Chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav gave an interview to the Economic Times on Saturday in which he revealed that the Indian Railways will boast of 150 private trains to start with. According to him, the Railways is still working on choosing the routes that will go for bidding for private operators. He said that such trains would be run on the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah stretches and other such viable routes. He said that though the exact investment numbers can’t be given yet as they are being worked upon, the Railways expect the private trains to start operating by 2023-24. In order to make that happen, the bidding process will have to be set in motion soon.
He also explained the rationale of taking the bold move towards involvement of the private sector. Yadav said that by December 2021, the Railways would have developed the Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) on the key Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Howrah corridors. At present the maximum permissible speed for freight trains is 60 kilometres per hour, however with the completion of DFCs the maximum permissible limit would go upto 100 kilometres per hour. This would lead to 90% of the freight traffic on these crucial corridors shifting to the DFCs. Apart from this, the Union Cabinet has also given its nod for upgradation of the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Kolkata stretches after which trains on these corridors would be able to run at a speed of 160 kilometres per hour.
The above developments imply that over a period of four to five years, waiting lists and hardships in booking rail tickets on busy corridors would become a thing of the past. As per the Railway Board Chairman, these developments would necessitate a larger number of new trains. This is where the private sector comes into the picture. Yadav said that the private sector is expected to bring in out of the box solutions. He said that the 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.” Therefore, the Railways is looking to transform the experience of rail experience in India by bringing in private operators and ensuring optimum utilisation of the massive infrastructural upgradation- both in terms of extra space to run passenger trains with freight trains shifting to dedicated corridors and higher permissible speed limits, which is currently underway.
As far as the issue of procuring coaches is concerned, Yadav said that the private operators will be given the option of importing coaches, buying them from Indian companies or buying them from the Indian Railways. They will also be given the option of leasing them too. This implies that the Railways is going to give them a lot of flexibility in order to ensure commercial viability and convenience. But according to Yadav, the Railways expect that new trainsets will arrive.
Recently, it was announced that India’s first private train- IRCTC Delhi-Lucknow Tejas Express would operate from October 4. According to Yadav, this is an experiment before the Railways open itself for allowing purely private operators to run their trains. He also said that the IRCTC has now announced several value additions and facilities on the luxury train.
Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways and Commerce & Industry has been a longstanding advocate of privatisation. He brought many market oriented reforms in Indian Railways, the largest public sector undertaking in the country. Now, this step to allow private operators to run trains on the Indian Railways network is bound to go down as one of the boldest reforms ever taken by the massive transporter. This decision is also going to be in line with the idea of a rule-based capitalist economy as it ensures equity and fairness by opening up an entire sector for the private operators on the basis of a transparent bidding process. The government is also showing a bold attitude by not worrying for motivated political criticism and helping the Indian economy get out of the Nehruvian hangover. The timing of this move is also worth appreciating as the Railways is in a position to take advantage of the massive infrastructural reform separating freight and passenger traffic which would naturally create demand for extra trains to ply on busy routes.