The pandemic has hit the life of every individual. India’s luxury trains, viz., Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Maharajas’ Express, Palace on Wheels, the Golden Chariot, and Deccan Odyssey too tremendously got affected by this novel coronavirus and remained off the tracks during the pandemic time from 2019 until 2022. Seeing the panic and critical situation, people too were apprehensive about travelling anywhere. As India opened up in view of the falling Covid-19 cases, railway life too has slowly chugged back to normal.
It is pertinent to mention that Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) operates the famous Palace on Wheels and Rajasthan Royals on Wheels in collaboration with Indian Railways. The train is quite popular among foreigners and NRIs. The Palace on Wheels train takes 8 days to complete the journey in the sector of the Golden Triangle, i.e., Delhi-Agra-Jaipur, and passes through heritages of Rajasthan, deserts, and bird sanctuaries along with the historic monument, and the Taj Mahal in Agra.
In an interview with me, a senior official from RTDC said, “We are planning to restart the trains with a covid restricted travel advisory in the month of Sept. 2022. For the last two years, the trains were not operational. With restricted covid norms issued by the Government of India including a face mask, social distancing the RTDC department seeing the current scenario will now allow people in small groups of 30-35 in number. Not only these trains but also the buses for local city tours will be used in a limited capacity,” he added.
While replying to my question that the major impact faced during the period of lockdown and pandemic on the Palace on Wheels train, the official stated, “The train was not operational for a long period of over two years from March 2020 until now, so as a negative impact, we are facing excessive spending on establishment expenditure of the train.”
Due to the pandemic, all 28 scheduled departures of Maharajas’ Express, running from Delhi-different cities of Rajasthan to Mumbai have been cancelled from October 2021 to April 2022.
An official from Maharajas’ Express train said, “Currently, resumption of international travel is a big factor given the fact that the majority of travellers travel in the train are from foreign countries. The train service will resume from October 2022 with a sizeable number of guests as advance bookings have already been done.”
The majority of tourists who travel on these trains are from foreign nations and due to rescheduling or cancellation of trains during the pandemic time the rail industry underwent a big financial or economical loss.
The senior official of RTDC further informed, “It was a bad phase as a big bulk booking done in the year 2019-2020 got cancelled by the tourists owing to Covid-19. Though the rail department has given the passengers the option to reschedule their trips for the next season or may seek a full refund without any cancellation charges. As the booking was done through agents or GSA retail service and hence, after the cancellation of the trips, the rail department directly could not reach to the passengers, especially foreign travellers and hence, encountered a big loss.”
Now as the disastrous Covid-19 has almost come to an end, travel including air and rail is reviving with new guidelines, upgraded services, and trends. With the return of foreign tourists, luxury trains are back on the tracks after being halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the end, we can say that people will soon travel in style through these luxury trains and will witness the royal ambiance and mood again. (Article by Anubha Jain, Journalist Writer)