NEW DELHI : Indian Railways plans to offer as many as 500 trains to private operators over the next five years, a senior railway ministry official said.

The railways is already in the process of finalizing the bidding document for 150 such trains that will be run by private operators in the first phase. This will be followed by 350 additional trains which will also be run by private operators, the official said, requesting anonymity.

Indian Railways runs around 13,000 passenger trains every day and it estimates an additional requirement of 3,000-4,000 trains to meet growing passenger demand. Private train operators will be able to handle some of the traffic. The step is also expected to boost private investment in the sector and ease burden on government finances.

In a first, as many as 150 modern trains will be run by private operators across 100 routes, offering world-class technology and services to passengers, along with improving punctuality. A discussion paper issued last month by the government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog and the railway ministry has forecast an investment of about 22,500 crore to run these trains.

With infrastructure, maintenance and safety handled by the railways, these private train operators will be allowed to procure trains, operate and maintain them, provide better on-board experience and services to passengers, in terms of food, comfort, entertainment, among others.

According to Railway Board chairman Vinod Kumar Yadav, the private operators can start operations once their rakes are ready. “The entire process, including bidding, as well as procuring rakes is likely to take 18-24 months," Yadav told reporters.

“We have not decided if the rakes will have to follow the government’s definition of ‘Make in India’. But, it will be a part of the bidding document when we finalize it," he said.

Mint reported in January that the government’s move attracted two dozen firms, including global majors Alstom Transport, Bombardier, Siemens AG and Macquarie and domestic companies such as Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp. (IRCTC).

Companies will have to bid for a network of routes and bids will be finalized on a revenue-sharing model. “They (companies) will have to pay the haulage (charges for using tracks) charges at 686 per km to the railways. Along with this, they will have to have a portion of their revenue, which will be mentioned in the bidding document," Yadav said, adding that companies will have the freedom to decide the fare and it will be market determined.

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