Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson – currently in India to launch Virgin Atlantic’s service on the Mumbai-London route – is toying with the idea of investing in high speed passenger services of the Indian Railways.

On Thursday evening, Branson said he would certainly like to invest in high speed passenger services of Indian Railways if there were opportunities, while replying to a Business Line query on the issue.

The Indian Railways is studying the feasibility of attracting private investment for high-speed trains for six routes and has been studying various options of attracting funding.

The six rail routes are: Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Agra-Lucknow- Varanasi-Patna, Hyderabad-Dornakal-Vijayawada-Chennai, Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore-Ernakulam, Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar and Howrah-Haldia.

Sharp-witted Branson also recalled how his first brush with the idea of investing in railways came about. “It is funny. My foray into British Rail scene was after a journalist asked me whether I would enter the railways. The day after I saw the news flashed in the media. It was then that I found the numbers of British Rail authorities and started calling them!,” he said.

Incidentally, Virgin Rail – which has a 15-year train operating licence in the UK where rail services are privatised – has moved Court after having lost the chance to another bidder to renew the licence in a competitive bidding process.

The aviation-to-trains to entertainment Group has a presence in India through aviation, telecom (Virgin Mobile India is a mobile virtual network operator and uses the network of Tata Teleservices), and FM radio.

Branson was tight-lipped about immediate investment plans in the Indian aviation sector. While welcoming the Government move to relax foreign direct investment rules in domestic aviation, he said it would take a “brave man” to invest in the country’s aviation sector in the backdrop of “bleeding airlines”.

mamuni.das@thehindu.co.in

ashwini.phadnis@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 26, 2012)
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