The ‘Bharat Gaurav’ train service from Coimbatore to Shirdi, a first of its kind in the country, was inaugurated at the Coimbatore North Railway Station on Tuesday.
Bharat Gaurav express trains are operated by private players, who have the right to use the rail infrastructure provided by the Indian Railways.
According to a press release, the objective of the initiative is to showcase India’s rich cultural heritage and magnificent historical places to the people of the country and the world through these trains.
The train will have a total of 20 coaches that can accommodate 1,092 passengers. It will start from the Coimbatore North Railway Station at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. It will stop at Tiruppur, Erode, Salem, Jolarpettai, Bengaluru Yelahanka and Dharmavaram, and reach Mantralayam by 11 a.m. on Wednesday. After a five-hour halt at Mantralayam, it will resume its journey at 4.p.m. and travel towards Wadi to reach the Sainagar Shirdi Railway Station at 7.25 a.m. on Thursday.
After a day-long halt at Shirdi, the train will begin its return journey from the Sainagar Shirdi Railway Station at 7.25 a.m. on Friday and reach the Coimbatore North Railway Station by 12 p.m. on Saturday.
A railway official said the loco pilots and guards would be from the Indian Railways. Bookings, fixing of tariff and maintenance would be handled by the private company offering the service. “Not only private companies, but the governments of Karnataka and Odisha have also shown interest in operating such trains to promote tourism,” the official added.
The Southern Railway would get an annual fixed revenue of ₹3.34 crore through the operation of this train, the press release said.
Commenting on the ticket fare, R. Tulasi Priya, a passenger, said, “We cannot make a comparison as there are no direct trains [from Coimbatore] to Shirdi. It may seem costlier than a normal train, but as a package, it is worth the money for a pilgrimage, as all the arrangements are taken care of by the service provider.”
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP representing the Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency, P.R. Natarajan, said privatising the operation of a train by the largest public sector undertaking (PSU) was not acceptable. Trains should be run only by the PSU for the safety of the public, he said. He recalled the privatisation of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR), which was subsequently withdrawn. He also noted that train services in the United Kingdom were also privatised, only to be withdrawn a couple of years later. Hence, he urged the Union government to withdraw the move to privatise train operations.
Various railway employees’ unions condemned the move. In Coimbatore and Erode, members of the Southern Railway Mazdoor Union staged a protest. In Tiruppur, members of the Dakshin Railway Employees’ Union staged a demonstration and raised slogans against the Bharat Gaurav trains. The unions alleged that private companies were charging exorbitant prices for travel.