How to make Sri Lanka’s AirportExpress a success
Sri Lankan government’s project to create a rail transfer service from Colombo city to the Colombo Bandaranaike Airport, has turned into a loss making venture. Keeping aside the usual suspecting of corruption involved in South Asian dealings, this is a suggestion to make the system work in Sri Lanka.
– If possible, import two to three new economical Diesel Multiple Units (DMU) for use on the service (economical being the highlight since the older Hitachi model presently used for this service can hardly be considered economical). The new DMU should be configured in a semi-luxury configuration. A luxury service would mean that higher fares need be demanded, which would make the project commercially non-viable. A higher density service would not be preffered by the tourists as the new service would probably be their first touchpoint with the country of Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka does not have any electrified rail tracks, having an economical DMU would be essential to ensure that this train service is made profitable. A good choice would be a DMU similar to the HB-E300 Hybrid custom built to fit the track gauge size used in Sri Lanka – or may be even a choice similar to the Australian Transwa or Bombardier built Turbostars (Class 172 in UK), although Sri Lanka Railways might as well be able to find a suitable alternative from a Chinese or Indian provider too.
-Create booking partnerships with airlines operating into Sri Lanka. The service should be made available for integration on airlines’ websites through a dedicated Booking Engine backbone. A small commission should be made avaialble to the airlines which send bookings for the train service. This would prove to be an attractive source of ancillary income for the airlines and the possibility is that possibly most of the foreign airlines operating into Sri Lanka may participate. Once the service develops into a commercially successful venture, the train operator may start charging the airlines a monthly or annual fee to participate in the service.
But until then, it would be a task that should be well managed with a mix of efficient resource utilization bringing lower costs, lower fares and good marketing. While it might not be a project to consider very easy, it is something doable and almost certainly will guarantee success.