The much awaited train service to Katra which will connect the pilgrims from across the country to the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to be inaugurated in the last week of June or the first week of July. The Northern Railway which will be operating this route has announced the route fully operational after it ran a train on this route from New Delhi to Katra. It is being learnt that PM Narendra Modi is very keen to inaugurate the extension of rail network to Katra, and the date for the inauguration would be announced soon.
The cost of this track has been pegged at Rs 1000 crore, and it is likely to be the first project to be inaugurated by Modi in the state. The Northern Railways has announced that the track is ready for inauguration, and operation as all deficiencies pointed out by Commissioner for Railways Safety (CRS)have been rectified. The track was ready for inauguration at the start of the year but adverse report by the CRS forced the rail authorities to delay the project. The project was fast tracked by VK Gupta, GM, Northern Railways, during his tenure.
The new rail link will ensure that pilgrims on way to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine can reach Katra without stopping in Jammu. Railway authorities said that they are also trying to integrate the Yatra slips for darshan with the train tickets to ease the movement of pilgrims so that they are not hassled during the trip. They also assured that Katra train station would be world class with facilities such as yatra parchi counter, elevators, AC waiting rooms, restaurants, shopping complex and IRCTC guest house. Officials said that world class food from different cuisines of the country will be made available to the pilgrims at the station. A bus service to connect the station with Ban Ganga will also be run by the rail authorities to facilitate the movment of an estimated one crore pilgrims who visit the holy shrine every year. The rail ministry has also announced three new premium trains — Bandra-Katra, Howrah-Katra and Yesvantpur-Katra to carry the large passenger load. The rail link to Katra has been a very tough project consisting of 7 tunnels, 30 small and big bridges spanning over 10 km of 25 Km stretch.
To prepare for the inauguration of the Udhampur – Katra rail link, the railways carried out a trial run recently in which a train from New Delhi carrying large number of rail officials reached Katra. The train was led by GM Northern Railways, PK Aggarwal, and inclued 300 officials and engineers. The 53-km long Jammu Udhampur line has already been operational since many years, and once this link becomes operational it would be another milestone for the railways in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Experts also point out that inauguration of this link will bring Jammu, and Srinagar closer, and time is not very far when the two parts of the state would be connected, a dream expressed by erstwhile rulers of the state.
In 1898, Maharaja Partap Singh of Jammu and Kashmir had explored the possibility of connecting Jammu with Srinagar through the rail network but due to lack of technical know how the project could not takeoff. In 1933, another ruler of the state tried to kick start the project but financial constraints caused roadblock. After 1947, the project was shelved due to lack of political interest and huge cost involved. However it was in 1983 under the Indira Gandhi rule that work was initiated on the project. In April 2005, the rail line was connected between Udhampur and Jammu, and from Banihal to Srinagar in Kashmir valley. It is expected that in a decade from now the project to connect Srinagar and Jammu would be completed thus taking the train from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
Photographs Contributed by Citizen Journalist Ashish