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Gourmet meals on vintage trains; get ready to experience in an imperial way



NEW DELHI: At least 13 chains have shown interest in setting up a restaurant inside the original Palace on Wheel coaches

If you love romancing the railways, get ready to experience it in an imperial way, just like the royals of Rajputana and Bhavnagar, the Nizam of Hyderabad or the Viceroy of British India. Inside the original Palace on Wheels rail coaches, you can soon get your favourite food, too.

At least 13 chains have shown interest in setting up a restaurant inside the original Palace on Wheel coaches, currently placed in the National Rail Museum here. Railway subsidiary RITES had floated an Expression of Interest (EOI), seeking proposals from firms to convert these coaches into a one-party branded restaurant. The food chains that put in EOIs include Lite Bite Foods (that owns brands including Punjabi Grill, Fresco Co and Tappa), JS Hospitality Services that runs Pind Balluchi, Olive Bar and Kitchen that runs One Style Mile, Udupi chain, Bajaj Foods and Beverages, the Galaxia group, Hotel Aura, Tivoli Garden Resort Hotels and Sunrich Group. The groups will be able to run these trains with ‘Palace on Wheels’ branding.

“This will be the first such vintage restaurant in India and will be converted at an expense of around Rs 150 million. We had invited private parties for these fine dining restaurants,” said an official. After going through the EOIs, the Railway Board will take a call on the plan. Depending on the footfall, the coaches could be placed in the Rail Museum or outside. “All these coaches are over 100-years old. Corporates are bidding aggressively as they will get a brand that has a vintage value attached to it.

This is likely to materialise in a few months, within the first half of financial year 2018-19,” the official added.

Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani was instrumental in starting the rail coach restaurant concept by launching the ‘Shane-e-Bhopal Express’ while chairman of Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. This train restaurant is placed in the Lake View Ashok Hotel in Bhopal. The original Palace on Wheels were used by the princely states of Rajputana, Bhavnagar, Bikaner or Porbunder, and the Nizam of Hyderabad among others. These were reportedly manufactured between 1880 and 1922. These coaches were kept in a dilapidated condition at various railway zones for many years since Independence.

In 2009, Indian Railways had launched luxury trains in association with Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, with the brand name of Palace on Wheels, to promote tourism in the state. Services on the train, considered one of the most luxurious in the world, are designed in traditional style.

The interiors were designed by Delhi-based designer Monica Khanna. The coaches that are run as Palace on Wheels are replicas of the originals in the Rail Museum. The original coaches could not be run on rail tracks since they were of metre-gauge size (narrow-gauge railways with gauge of one metre), while the railway network is mostly broad-guage. Also, operating these trains also leads to wear and tear.

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