Tejas services likely to be suspended

Srinand Jha
28 Sep 2022
Tejas services likely to be suspended

New Delhi: The October launch of the new version Vande Bharat on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line is likely to cause significant collateral damage: with the Tejas Express -which operates at similar timings on the same route - likely to be discontinued. The Vande Bharat trial runs will be completed on September 30, while the commercial launch is expected from October 2. "There is no decision yet to change the timings of the Vande Bharat", a senior ministry official said.

Indian Railways' plans to run private trains in past years have not fructified. After the initial offer of the Indian Railways to offer trains on lease failed to draw a response from the private players, the public transporter toyed with the idea of allowing foreign operators such as the Spanish Talgo to bring and operate their own rolling stock. The tilting technology Spanish trains conducted the much-publicised trials in 2016, but the Talgo plan was summarily and inexplicably dropped.

In 2020, IR announced an ambitious plan to permit 100 private trains on 150 routes. But tenders were discharged. In December last year, the private "Bharat Gaurav" trains were announced amidst a media blitzkrieg. In the last six months, the Bharat Gaurav has made just one trip. In three months previous to December 2021- when these trains were being operated by the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) as "Bharat Darshan" trains - these trains had made approximately 15 trips.

Cannibalising Revenues and concerns of the IRCTC

Fears of the IRCTC -which turned into a listed company in 2019 - are not imaginery. Since the upgraded Vande Bharat will cover the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route on similar timings (with a gap of 45 minutes and 75 minutes as compared to the Tejas in either direction) with lesser run time and lesser fares, possibilities are big that the Tejas clientele will prefer to migrate to the newer train. But issues, as is the case, are larger.

In a series of letters to the Railway Board, the IRCTC has flagged concerns about deficiencies in the Tejas rake (train). For instance, the GPS-based indicator - which shows the distance and speed of the train - has malfunctioned since March this year. The LCD system in Tejas coaches has been discontinued since October last year and, in the last one year, there have been two incidents of passengers suffering head injuries because of the collapse of the ceiling panel.

Other maintenance failures have been reported including severe leakage in the coaches and vestibule area and the replacement of anti-skid mats in the toilets. "It is disheartening that while other trains such as the Shatabdi are getting regular maintenance, even minor issues of Tejas like choked toilets or water leakages are ignored completely. The Periodic Overhaul of the Tejas train has not been done in time", an IRCTC official said.

The Tejas Story

The Tejas -launched in 2017 as a premium day train at par with the Shatabdis with rights of a priority path - fell on bad days on account of a combination of factors including violations of the agreement reached in January 2020 by the Railways and the IRCTC. According to the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding, the Railways are required to provide for timely pit line examination and meet Periodic Overhaul (POH) and other maintenance schedules and undertake the rolling stock examination. "All electrical fittings, air conditioning, hot and cold equipment and power cars will be in working order", says the MoU.

Tejas is a traditional loco-hauled train using the Rajdhani LHB coaches, while the Vande Bharat is a state-of-the-art and self-propelled Electrical Multiple Unit (EMU). If the Railways intend to run the Vande Bharat on the same timings and same route as the Tejas, the ministry must consider allocating a Vande Bharat rake for the Tejas as well. Because of declining quality of service - as also on account of the Covid pandemic - the IRCTC has accumulated losses in operating the Tejas trains estimated at Rs 58 crores in the last three years. With the introduction of the Vande Bharat, the IRCTC would have little option but to suspend the services of the Tejas.

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