The Railway Ministry wants to run private trains by 2023 but why will any operator bid?
The Ministry of Railways wants private operators to run a few long-distance express trains in India. Last week, it expressed its intent to invite participation for 109 pairs of routes for a project that would entail private sector investment of about Rs 30,000 crore. The announcement has brought out the usual suspects, both for and mainly against the proposal. But this offer could be stillborn simply because it makes no sense for any private operator. The railways has put a cascade of conditions without any iota of responsibility. This proposal is as silly as the railways’ ill-fated idea that shifted to an airline pricing algorithm, minus any proper maths, which would have allowed for prices below average as well.
The problem is quite simply that Indians have tasted cheap airfares on long distance routes. And while rail fares could still be fractionally cheaper, travelling by train will only be an option for those going to places that are far removed from the aviation map. How can one justify the 17 hours taken to travel between Delhi and Mumbai on a train when an aircraft takes just two hours and a couple more to get home for more or less the same price? The value of time has certainly hit train travel across the country. It is doubtful that the Railways will recover anytime soon. However, private train operators could manage interesting high-end luxury travel concepts where the value of time is less than that of the travel experience. It is unlikely that new private operators will be allowed on India’s new high speed line. So it is curious why the Railway Ministry thinks it has a product that others will want to buy. Luxury is the only way. Train operators across large countries in the world are doing just that: Moving from being mass transport operators to becoming purveyors of luxury. Sure, limited passenger operations might remain but railways are moving to being commuter options in urban areas or moving the whole hog to high-speed. This idea might be praised or criticised but the realities of the world mean that it is an idea whose time passed a decade ago.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)