Indian Railways is inviting private players to run trains on its network in what is being envisaged as a Rs 22,500 crore mega infrastructure project.
Indian Railways is inviting private players to run trains on its network in what is being envisaged as a Rs 22,500 crore mega infrastructure project. Spanish player Talgo has expressed interest in the proposal and is willing to ‘Make in India’ customised trains for the project. In an interview with Financial Express Online’s Smriti Jain, the Managing Director-India of Talgo, Subrat Nath, talks about why he thinks the move is brilliant. Edited excerpts:
Have you looked at Niti Aayog’s draft discussion paper for operation of private trains? Is Talgo interested in participating?
Yes, we are very interested in the project. This is a very good initiative because it is obvious that Indian Railways needs new rolling stock. If you look at our roads and airports, there is a big difference from the way they were in 1990s. But if you look at trains, that feeling is not there. There has to be development. Many people have switched from Indian Railways to airlines because there are no good trains. For example, if somebody wants to go to Delhi from Amritsar, they prefer a flight because there are no good trains. I think this is a good initiative; by inviting private players, there are 2 advantages. One is that the government does not have to spend money and that same amount can be utilised on something else like schools, hospitals etc. The government is giving private companies the chance to take decisions so that things move quickly and there are no delays.
How lucrative is the Niti Aayog’s draft proposal? Is the government moving in the right direction in terms of ease doing business for the private sector?
I think the government is taking the right steps and they are going in the right direction. Secondly, they are open to listening to private players and they are interacting in groups and trying to find out what our concerns are, and they have published all the documents on Niti Aayog’s website and they are expecting us to give feedback.
Can you share some details on the kind of feedback that Talgo is giving?
There are certain things that will make everybody comfortable, for example Indian Railways is giving a place to maintain our trains. What can be difficult is that when we bring our train to maintain there, another train may be standing there, we would prefer exclusive rights so that we can decide on maintenance as and when required. We can use the facility as per our requirement.
Have you also studied the routes that have been proposed? Are they, in your opinion, feasible for the private operator?
Yes, all these routes are busy routes. Indian Railways does not want its existing operations to suffer. Instead, the idea is to provide extra trains so that passengers don’t get waitlisted. This is a win-win situation for both the sides. Also, the stations have also been proposed smartly; those with lesser number of trains will be offered, making it easier for the private operator to start operations. Whatever minor improvements are required to smaller railway stations will be done, the idea is really brilliant.
Indian Railways will allow private players to charge market-linked fares. What do you think the fares would be, in terms of comparing to both railways and air fares?
I don’t think any railway operator needs to charge more than air to make profit, there is no need. So, it is not going to be more than air. In 1990, all the buses that were going from Delhi to Shimla, were state-run buses; then suddenly Volvos started coming and everybody is willing to pay more. Similarly, I believe that there is a deep market and people are ready to pay if you can provide good services. Your ticket price should be proportional to the scope or quality of the service. Quality of service means the train should be comfortable, clean, hygienic and also save time and be safe. Indians like to pay for a better service.
The discussion paper says that the private operator is free to bring its own rolling stock, provided it meets the RDSO standards. From Talgo’s perspective, would you be looking to customise your existing trains for India? Will you Make in India or will you import?
We will definitely Make in India and we are already in discussions for this, to start Make in India for this project. And we have been looking for where to Make in India. The government has opened up the sector for private players and we believe that we have a very good product for the Indian market which will be safer and help save time. All of the trains we run around the world are customised. You have to customise the trains for the needs of the society. We have a platform ready for India.
So, that platform will be for both chair car and sleeper trains?
Yes. We have the design ready. We are in discussions with possible Indian partners and we will definitely Make in India.