Southern Splendour train awaits green signal

AP is keen on introducing a luxury train `Southern Splendour` modelled on the famed Palace-On-Wheels to promote and boost tourism in the southern states.

Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh is keen on
introducing a luxury train `Southern Splendour` modelled on
the famed Palace-On-Wheels to promote and boost tourism in the
southern states but the project is still way off the track as
it is awaiting clearance from the Railways.

According to official sources in the State Tourism
Department, governments of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have come
forward to join hands with AP while efforts are on to rope in
Orissa also to launch the luxury train.

However, the Railway Ministry is yet to clear the project
leading to the delay in its execution.

Moreover, Railways` insistence on revenue-sharing has
become a hitch in launching the Southern Splendour, they said.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K Rosaiah has written to
Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking incentives for
the luxury train project like those given to Punjab for a
similar venture, they said.

State Tourism Minister J Geeta Reddy said, "The project
is stuck with the Railways. We have taken up the issue with
them many times in the past. We will once again take it up
with the Railway Minister."

"We are seeking a level-playing field so that the project
becomes viable. Already Palace-on-Wheels and other such
projects enjoy incentives offered by the Railways but as per
the new policy we are not being offered the same," government
sources said.

The 14-coach luxury train project was conceived way back
in 2005 for tourism promotion in Andhra and other southern
states with Hyderabad as the hub. Also, the Centre had given
clearance for the Rs 45-crore project on May 17, 2006 treating
it as a high revenue generating avenue.

It also agreed to bear part of the costs while Andhra
Pradesh and other partner states will share the balance
proportionately. The Karnataka government, which did not show
interest in the AP project, launched its own `Golden Chariot`
in March this tear.

Yet, AP proposed a route covering prominent tourist spots
in the state as well as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

As per the original plan, the train was supposed to cover
Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Nagarjunasagar, Visakhapatnam, Araku
Valley, Tirupati and Puttaparthi in Andhra; and Bangalore,
Mysore, Hassan, Halebid, Belur and Hampi in Karnataka. In TN,
it is expected to cover Chennai, Thanjavur and Madurai.

Subsequently, the AP Tourism Development Corporation
appointed a private consultant that suggested two routes
covering important tourist destinations like Secunderabad,
Tirupati, Madurai, Tanjavur, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Thekkedy,
Bangalore, Mysore, Vrindavan, Chennai and Mahabalipuram over
3,200 km.

The second route was Secunderabad, Tirupati, Madurai,
Tanjavur, Tiruvananthapuram, Kanyakumari, Kochi/Ernakulam,
Puducherry, Chennai, Mahabalipuram and Secunderabad (2900 km).

At one stage, the APTDC initiated talks with Orissa
government for including some destinations in the state like
Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Konark as part of the package. But no
headway was made here too, official sources said.

"We have now decided to handover the project to a private
operator for running the Southern Splendour. The private
operator will decide and finalise the routes based on
feasibility," Tourism Secretary Jayesh Ranjan said.

When it gets on track, the Southern Splendour will
comprise living coaches (each with 4 cabins and a double bed
and attached bath), a gym, fine dining restaurant, health
club, lounge and a coffee shop.

PTI

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