KATRA/SRINAGAR: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday inaugurated the 25-km train service between Udhampur and Katra, enabling pilgrims to now take a direct train from Delhi to the base camp of Vaishno Devi shrine in Trikuta hills.
“Today’s historic,” said Modi. “By the blessings of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi, we succeeded in achieving our aim of connecting the world-famous shrine with the rest of the country. I’ve come here to Vaishno Devi. I remember I began the election campaign from here, and today we begin our development journey from here,” he added.
It was the “most auspicious occasion” to launch the train, Modi said, as “on the one hand, the Amarnath Yatra is on, and on the other the holy month of Ramzan is in progress”.
He suggested the new train be named ‘Shreeshakti Express’ and described the new line as part of the ambitious Kashmir rail-link project that will connect the Valley with the rest of the country.
“We’ve to further increase rail links in Kashmir,” Modi said. The state has gone through several problems and “we want it to be prosperous and peaceful”, he said, adding it was the desire of every Indian to ensure that the state progressed and its youth got employment. “It’s our duty and we will do it whether we are in power in the state or not,” he said. “I want to give a message to the people here that the journey started by (former PM) Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be taken to its logical conclusion.”
An aerial view of the Katra railway station in Jammu (PTI Photo)
Railway minister Sadanand Gowda and chief minister Omar Abdullah were by Modi’s side during the inauguration of the rail link. Abdullah said railway lines in Kashmir — a dream for the people of the state — were made possible by Vajpayee’s plan for development. He stressed on the need for early completion of unconnected stretches of the Jammu-Baramulla railway track.
After inaugurating the train at Katra, Modi left for Srinagar to address Army troops at Badami Bagh Cantonment. He later inaugurated a 240MW hydro-power project in Uri in Baramulla district, about 18 km away from the Line of Control. The PM’s visit to the Valley took place amid a partial shutdown due to the strike call given by separatists.
Meanwhile, the Udhampur-Katra link, which has seven tunnels and nine major bridges, will ease the pilgrim rush in Jammu, with Katra will become the final station for Vaishno Devi-bound trains. More than 50 lakh people visit the shrine every year and a railway official said they would now expect more traffic on the route.
The new link boasts of Jhajjar bridge, the country’s longest steel girder structure which is 85 metres high. The train will also pass through a 3.1 km long tunnel. The rail section was built at a cost of Rs 1,132 crore and was slated for inauguration in October last year, but got delayed after a portion of a tunnel caved in.