The Indian network of Vande Bharat semi-high-speed routes is being expanded to as many as 75 trains by 2023, prime minister Narendra Modi announced during his Independence Day speech Sunday. A look at the National Rail Plan shows that as many as 70 new sets of AC trains are already projected as the number that would meet demand from the public this year.
Further into the future, as many as 300 AC trains could be needed to fulfil the needs of Indian travelers on routes of 200 to 700 kilometers, which includes the shorter routes predominantly expected to be added to the Vande Bharat system first.
New acquisitions made for the Vande Bharat will be so-called chair and executive chair cars, featuring rows of seats rather than the compartment style typical of Indian trains. Even on longer routes, the style is expected to be featured, as the chairs recline similar to those on an airplane. Chair cars in the AC sector have been profitable for Indian Rail since 2016. Third class AC is also profitable, while AC second and first class are not.
According to data published by The Times of India, the executive chair class has been the fastest-growing style of AC travel on the Indian network. 1.1 million passengers traveled this way in 2017/18, up from just 400,000 in 2008/09. Most passenger, almost 94 million, traveled on third class AC trains in the latest available year, followed by 27 and 29 million on second class and chair car AC trains and 2.7 million on first class AC trains.