There has been a drastic decrease in the number of tourists taking the five luxury trains that are run by Indian Railways in association with other agencies. As a result of which, the revenue earned by these trains has also declined. Indian Railways runs the Palace on Wheels, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey, Golden Chariot, and Maharajas’ Express with respective state tourism corporations and Indian Railways Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). However, except for Maharajas’ Express, the revenues earned by these luxury trains came down alarmingly in the last five years—2012-13 to 2016-17. Similarly, all except Maharajas’ Express reported a decline in the number of passengers in the last five years. Though Maharajas’ Express witnessed an increase in the number of tourists, even this train’s number of vacant seats, 7,902, in five years, was more than the number of occupied seats, 4,580.
For example, the total revenue of Palace on Wheels was Rs 35.83 crore in 2012-13, which came down to Rs 27.11 crore in 2016-17. Similarly, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels earned Rs 17.77 crore in 2012-13, an earning that came down to Rs 5.96 crore in 2016-17. The Maharajas’ Express, however, saw a rise in its revenue—from Rs 25.15 crore in 2012-13 to Rs 41.38 crore in 2016-17.
Sources said that the corporations that are supposed to market these trains, have failed to do their job. “At present, most of the passengers are foreign tourists. No effort has been made to attract domestic passengers. There is very little awareness about these trains among Indians. Also the high fares make these trains less attractive for them,” said a Railway official.
He said the role of Indian Railways is limited to operating these trains. Since the number of passengers for these trains is low, the number of trips has been limited, he added.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Sudip Bandyopadhyay, which deliberated on the issue, too gave lack of passengers as the main reason for this dip in revenue. As per Indian Railways figures, these five trains together reported 54% vacant seats on an average in five years.
The committee also expressed its displeasure over Indian Railways’ decision to give complimentary tickets, which added to the loss of revenue. “The committee are dismayed to note that the provisions of complimentary travel is continuing in these luxury trains on the recommendation of either Railway Board or IRCTC or state tourism development corporations,” the report says.
Prices on Maharajas’ Express start from around $6,000 for a trip.
Sources said Railway Minister Piyush Goyal is concerned about the decline in the number of tourists in luxury trains. Recently, a tourism interactive session was organised at the behest of Goyal, which was attended by travel trade partners, associations and other stakeholders. All zonal railways were asked to promote rail tourism on a few chosen routes. “It seems that luxury trains are no longer a desirable mode of transport for the foreign tourists. Suggestions have been made to reduce fares to attract more passengers,” said the official.