Grinding halt for ‘royal’ train soon?

After changing its colour thrice since its launch, the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels (RROW), a super luxury tourist train that can barely break even during its run, now looks at getting its haulage model changed. The fixed haulage charges, now applicable to luxury trains, are highly exorbitant.

Following a letter by chief minister Ashok Ghelot to railways minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, chief secretary C K Mathew and officials from the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) are slated to meet member traffic, Railway Board at New Delhi, in this regard.

‘Royal Rajasthan on Wheels’ – touted as India’s most luxurious train – is a joint venture between RTDC and Indian Railways. At the moment, the Rajasthan government owes Rs 30 crore haulage charges to the ministry and with RTDC running in losses, it seemed adifficult thing to run the train on the current model.

In 2010, the railway board had increased haulage charges from Rs 1,000 per kilometre to Rs 2,000. If the RTDC had paid Rs 30 lakh per trip as haulage charges, it has to pay nearly Rs 60 lakh per trip now. While the railway board had offered a discount of 40% since 2011, the objective of the meeting would be to negotiate with the board to consider extending the discount by two more years i.e. till 2009 when the RROW was flagged off. The RROW which is parked for the season is said to have run on 50% capacity last season and generated Rs one crore which barely covered running expenses and commissions to general sales agents (GSAs). For the next season, only 25 per cent tickets are booked.

“The haulage charges are exorbitant and we plan to propose to the railways to run the train on revenue sharing basis as the Palace on Wheels (POW). While railways get 56% of the revenue, Rajasthan’s share is 44% is far more logical,” said Vinod Ajmera, managing director of RTDC. Besides there would also be discussion on POW coaches overhauling, he said. The average life of the train coaches is 18 years but POW has already done 18 years, well past its life.

Unlike POW which has been running on fixed itinerary for years, RROW has since its inception been a “victim of officials and politicians’ whims and fancies”. A stark example is when the train was running in losses, it changed its colour thrice. “Initially, it was painted golden to reflect the colour of the sand. This was when BJP was in power. In late 2008, Congress came to power and with it the train’s colour was changed to dark yellow. And then, the train’s colour was changed to blue. Initially, the RTDC was reluctant to change the colour since it had already bought yellow paint. But the train finally had to be painted blue at a cost of over Rs 4 lakh to the RTDC at a time when the train was incurring a loss of Rs 5 crore every season,” a source said.

Moreover, while POW for years maintains the same well-researched itinerary, RROW is now contemplating changing the itinerary, which will also be one of the issues listed on the agenda of the meeting.

Wedding on Wheels! Get hitched for Rs.2 crore while on the move.

So you’ve decided to get hitched. How far will you go to have that bespoke experience?

If money is no object, one can go location hunting for the nuptials from historic forts and palaces, chateaux with vineyards to beach getaways and of late, scenic vista overlooking the Dal Lake in Kashmir.

How about doing it in style in the lap of luxury on board a running train? Yes, you read that right – a train .

The Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC), already a hit overseas for selling the state as a hot destination for weddings in forts and havelis, plans to use its two luxury trains – Palace on Wheels and Rajasthan Royals on Wheels – for weddings from next year.

And for the jet set bored of attending intercontinental weddings, the trains come with an “unforgettable on-board menu”, the RTDC claimed.

The week-long stay on the train promises a luxurious feel.For a similar experience, you’ll end up spending Rs.10 crore to Rs.30 crore for a three-four day affair at a palace in Rajasthan or any other happening address. But for a fraction of the cost, you can entertain a train-full of guests in the lap of luxury over a week.

“An all-inclusive seven-day extravaganza on board will cost between Rs.2 crore and Rs.2.5 crore for a 100-odd guest list,” RTDC chairman Randeep Dhankar said. “The financial plan and itinerary are being worked out to sell it for bookings from next year.”

And in these times of recession, you get a discount as well – for every 108-seat (full capacity) Palace on Wheels you book, the wedding party will be paying for only 95 guests – a discount of nearly 17 per cent!”Tickets for the entire train will work out to Rs.1.85 crore. With all services availed, the expenses won’t go beyond Rs.2.5 crore,” RTDC general manager Pramod Sharma said.

For Rajasthan Royals on Wheels, one can hire the train for under Rs.1.5 crore as it seats only 82 people. “Other expenses will run up to around Rs.20-30 lakh and keep the budget under Rs.1.75 crore,” Dhankar said.

Passengers wait to get on the Palace on Wheels, which is also popular among foreigners. From a grand welcome for the guests to having a priest on board to a honeymoon suite and arranging for sangeet, not to mention cocktails and lavish buffets every evening through the week, the RTDC arranges everything.

It would even pamper the newly-weds with “separate cars and privacy” while travelling during the week-long trip, Dhankar said.

“It’s ironical that the two trains are identified more with the foreigners and have not yet targeted Indian travellers,” he said.

Read more at: