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Fast train worries Agra hotels

Lucknow, July 4: Good news for tourists can sometimes be bad news for the travel industry.

Plans to introduce India’s fastest train service between Delhi and Agra has deepened the worries of the local tour and hotel industry, already reeling under the bad publicity generated worldwide by serial rapes in Uttar Pradesh.

The train’s successful trial run yesterday broke the national speed record, clocking a highest of 160kmph and an average 133kmph as it made the 200km trip from Delhi to Agra in 90 minutes, officials said.

India’s current fastest train, the Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi Express, has a full speed of 150kmph, a Railway Board official said.

When the Delhi-Agra service is launched at the start of the peak tourist season in October, tourists will be able to travel to Agra in the morning and return to Delhi in the evening, railway officials said.

“This will increase the inflow but Agra’s hotels will starve because the occupancy rate will fall further,” rued Pradeep Tamta, a state tourism official.

Manish Bansal, franchise owner of tour operator Cox and Kings in Agra, agreed.

“The train will certainly give the foreign tourist a few more hours at the Taj Mahal, since the current train journey takes nearly three hours and even the 165km road trip takes about two-and-a-half hours,” Bansal said. “But the tourists will have all the more reason not to stay in Agra, which will hit the hotels.”

Railway sources said the 10-coach train, once launched, would leave Delhi at 7.10am and reach Agra at 8.40am. It will begin its return trip at 6.55pm.

Agra divisional railway manager Vijay Sehgal said the train met all the safety norms yesterday. It travelled at its full speed of 160km for about half the distance, slowing down a bit after Mathura.

Rape hurdle

The serial rapes in the state in the past three months, which provoked even the UN to express concern, has hit the government’s efforts to boost tourism.

Industry chamber Assocham has advised the state government to try and assuage the fears of female foreign tourists who come to the Taj in large numbers.

An Assocham survey last month showed that the Taj accounts for $7-8 billion of the $18-19 billion the country earns in foreign exchange through foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs).