Andhra Pradesh is keen on introducing a luxury train ‘Southern Splendour’ modelled on the famed Palace-On-Wheels to promote and boost tourism in the southern states but the project is still way off the track as it is awaiting clearance from the Railways.
According to official sources in the State Tourism Department, governments of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have come forward to join hands with AP while efforts are on to rope in Orissa also to launch the luxury train.
However, the Railway Ministry is yet to clear the project leading to the delay in its execution.
Moreover, Railways’ insistence on revenue-sharing has become a hitch in launching the Southern Splendour, they said.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K Rosaiah has written to Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking incentives for the luxury train project like those given to Punjab for a similar venture, they said.
State Tourism Minister J Geeta Reddy said, “The project is stuck with the Railways. We have taken up the issue with them many times in the past. We will once again take it up with the Railway Minister.”
“We are seeking a level-playing field so that the project becomes viable. Already Palace-on-Wheels and other such projects enjoy incentives offered by the Railways but as per the new policy we are not being offered the same,” government sources said.
The 14-coach luxury train project was conceived way back in 2005 for tourism promotion in Andhra and other southern States with Hyderabad as the hub. Also, the Centre had given clearance for the Rs 45-crore project on May 17, 2006 treating it as a high revenue generating avenue.
It also agreed to bear part of the costs while Andhra Pradesh and other partner States will share the balance proportionately. The Karnataka government, which did not show interest in the AP project, launched its own ‘Golden Chariot’ in March this year.
Yet, AP proposed a route covering prominent tourist spots in the State as well as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
As per the original plan, the train was supposed to cover Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Nagarjunasagar, Visakhapatnam, Araku Valley, Tirupati and Puttaparthi in Andhra; and Bangalore, Mysore, Hassan, Halebid, Belur and Hampi in Karnataka. In TN, it is expected to cover Chennai, Thanjavur and Madurai.
Subsequently, the AP Tourism Development Corporation appointed a private consultant that suggested two routes covering important tourist destinations like Secunderabad, Tirupati, Madurai, Thanjavur, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Thekkedy, Bangalore, Mysore, Vrindavan, Chennai and Mahabalipuram over 3,200 km.
The second route was Secunderabad, Tirupati, Madurai, Thanjavur, Tiruvananthapuram, Kanyakumari, Kochi/Ernakulam, Puducherry, Chennai, Mahabalipuram and Secunderabad (2900 km).
At one stage, the APTDC initiated talks with Orissa government for including some destinations in the State like Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Konark as part of the package. But no headway was made here too, official sources said.
“We have now decided to handover the project to a private operator for running the Southern Splendour. The private operator will decide and finalise the routes based on feasibility,” Tourism Secretary Jayesh Ranjan told PTI.
When it gets on track, the Southern Splendour will comprise living coaches (each with 4 cabins and a double bed and attached bath), a gym, fine dining restaurant, health club, lounge and a coffee shop.