After a prolonged wait, pilgrims will be able to directly reach Katra, the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, by rail as PM Narendra Modi flagged off the first train from the station nestled in Trikuta Hills in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district
The train will traverse through seven tunnels and over 30 small and large bridges. There will be a small station – Chakrakhwal – between Udhampur and Katra.
The 25 km long Udhampur-Katra line, which is being commissioned on Friday after prolonged delays, has been built at an estimated cost of Rs 1,132.75 crore.
Trains will be able to reach Katra directly as the 53-km Jammu-Udhampur rail line is already operational and now the Udhampur-Katra line, which is a part of the Kashmir rail link project, is being commissioned.
This would enable pilgrims headed to the Vaishno Devi shrine to travel directly to the base camp at Katra.
“Till now there are three local train services between Jammu and Udhampur and all these will now be extended to Katra,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.
Railways is considering extending Jammu Mail and Sampark Kranti Express up to Katra, besides introducing new trains, including Katra-Kalka Express, New Delhi-Katra AC express.
There is also a possibility of launching a new train between Varanasi and Katra, said the official, adding the purpose is to connect two holy places by train.
According to the official, there are demands from several zones for train services to Katra.
A set of local trains from Jammu to Katra and Pathankot to Katra is also likely to be introduced to cater to the rush of Vaishno Devi pilgrims. An estimated 10 million devotees visit the shrine every year.
Railway Protection Force (RPF) has been stationed at vulnerable locations all along the track in protected bunkers to maintain round-the-clock vigil.
Katra station is equipped with modern facilities, including tourist guide counter, cloak room, waiting hall, VIP lounge, escalators and lifts and parking spaces.
Meanwhile, tight security blanket was thrown over Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to the state on Friday during which he will inaugurate a rail link to put Katra on the railway map and address a Sanik Samelan in Srinagar.
During the one-day visit, Modi will make his first stop in Jammu from where he will go to Katra to flag off the inaugural train from the newly built Katra Railway station to Udhampur.
The train connectivity to Katra is part of the ambitious Kashmir rail link project marking region’s rail connectivity with the rest of the country.
“It’s an important development and it will ensure hassle free pilgrimage for a common man who travels to pay his obeisance at Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine,” state Governor N N Vohra said.
Ahead of the visit, a tight security cover was in place in the town with policemen keeping a vigil at all entry and exit points.
Hotels and lodges were being checked while security personnel combed all nearby hills and took positions at vantage points.
Udhampur-Katra rail route was slated to be commissioned during October last but it got delayed after a portion of a tunnel caved in.
At present, there are 27 trains which touch Jammu and Udhampur railway stations. An estimated 85 percent of pilgrims to the Vaishno Devi shrine use the railway facility.
The Prime Minister will later fly to Srinagar where he will address a ‘Sainik Sammelan’, official sources said.
After his lunch with Governor N N Vohra, the Prime Minister will inaugurate the second phase of 240 MW Uri Hydel project which has been built by the state-run National Hydel Power Corporation (NHPC). Modi will return to Delhi on Friday evening.
The project, second on river Jhelum in Uri town, is located downstream of 480-MW Uri-I.
Uri-II would help NHPC to increase its hydropower generation capacity to 1,920 MW from five projects in the state.
The other four projects are 690-MW Salal, 480-MW Uri-I, 390-MW Dulhasti and 120-MW Sewa-II.