Indian Railways is tweaking its plan to offer its saloon coaches to the public based on its experience over the first three months of the scheme and will offer fixed destinations and also not insist that the entire car be booked by one group, according to an official in the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp (IRCTC)

Since the scheme was launched in April , the saloon coaches have been booked only twice.

Mini-houses on wheels, saloon coaches are often used by railway officers for inspection but earlier this year, IRCTC decided to give a luxury makeover to these coaches and open them to the public.

Currently, the person booking the coach can decide the destination, and pays the equivalent of the first class AC ticket fare on it, for 18 passengers.

Under the new plan, IRCTC will launch the saloon coach for Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand in February 2019 and different families will be allowed to book packages.

“The saloon coach has been booked twice in three months, once for Jammu and once for Pune. It costs around R 50,000 to one lakh depending on the destination and we have been advertising about it through social media. We also plan to decide the destination in advance and allow different families to book it rather than allowing just one family. If 2-3 families are ready to share the coach and split the fare, we have no problem,” said an IRCTC officer on condition of anonymity.

The saloon coach has two bedrooms, a dinner lounge, a pantry, a toilet, a kitchen and separate space for attendants.

“This is like a hotel on wheels. Based on the destination, we attach the coach to the train going in that direction. The attendants take care of the family. Maximum 18 passengers are allowed in the coach,” the officer added.

Northern railway has two such saloon coaches that can be used by the public and if the scheme becomes popular, IRCTC says it can convert more coaches into luxury hotel rooms on wheels.

“Firstly I believe it is a marketing failure as I don’t think many people are aware of it,” said Lalit Panwar, former secretary of tourism in the central government, explaining why the initiative may not have taken off. “Secondly, airlines are offering interesting packages at very low cost and the scheme by IRCTC is expensive by Indian standard. Also, a series of rail accidents have dented Indian Railways’ image and that can also be one of the reasons.”

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