Opinions

A welcome train of thought: Private help


By flagging off a new rail service from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu to Sainagar Shirdi in Maharashtra on June 14, Indian Railways (IR) has broken a psychological barrier: that of tying up with a private company to provide train service. This novel public-private partnership (PPP) relies on IR, under GoI, doing what it is good at – running trains – and a private company, South Star Rail, providing the complementary in- and off-train tourist services.

The Bharat Gaurav scheme, launched in November 2021 to promote India’s cultural heritage, draws on GoI’s Indian Railway Catering and

‘s () Palace on Wheels and Buddhist Circuit tourist trains. Private partners can now lease trains to run on theme-based tourist circuits. They can redesign interiors, set prices, and design the route and package, paying a fee to IR to run and maintain the trains. Essentially, this unlocks a scheme to leverage the railway network to promote tourism, a sector still woefully underdeveloped, undervalued and underutilised, especially in the massive sub-sector of religious tourism. Additionally, being affordable, such PPPs will get domestic tourists out of buses and cars, off the roads into trains, competing with low-cost airlines.

There are 190 trains available for the Bharat Gaurav scheme, with regular transit outside the purview of the scheme. IR should ensure that it does not disrupt its core purpose of moving people, making these PPP enterprises supplementary to its core function of public (and goods) transportation. Earnings from this venture and saved capital should be ploughed back to improve the ‘ordinary’ IR experience. Oversight, proper accounting and feedback systems will be critical to ensure success. As thought experiments go, the Bharat Gaurav scheme should help people break out of the mindset of fearing private participation in the state-run railways. This is not privatisation of railways, but strictly PPP, much like catering services provided on IR trains. Run well, more tourist routes can result in a rising tide that lifts all boats – trains, in this case.



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