Punjab government and Orient Express plan tourism train

Chandigarh: The Punjab government has given its 'in principle' approval to the Rs400-million ($10 million) train tourism project that will be implemented in collaboration with Singapore-based Orient Express Hotels Ltd (OEHL).

The project was approved subsequent to a meeting between chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and an official team of OEHL, led by Tom Evers Swindell, the company's Asia regional director.

OEHL operates 50 luxury hotels, restaurants, tourist trains and river cruise operations in 25 countries including Britain, the US, Russia, Australia, France, Italy, Argentina and South Africa.

The train will be along the lines of the Palace on Wheels, which runs in Rajasthan.

Punjab government officials said OEHL's interest in the project could be owing to the large number of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and foreigners visiting Punjab. A large number of them come to the holiest of Sikh shrines, Harmindar Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar.

''There is tremendous potential for train tourism in Punjab,'' said Swindell. The proposed train is aimed at high-end tourists, and would cover most distances at night, enabling people to see tourist places during the day.

It is proposed to have 12 luxury air-conditioned coaches with three coupes each. Three lounge cars, with facilities of game rooms, a beauty saloon, an ayurvedic massage parlour, a health club, a library, a computer centre, a curio shop and a business and communication centre would be attached, along with two restaurant cars and one kitchen car.

The train would have multi-cuisine restaurants and relaxed seating arrangements. According to Punjab government sources, approval for the project has already been taken from the central government, barring a few formalities.