JAMMU, Feb 26: In a slew of major initiatives for Jammu and Kashmir, Railways Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal today announced four new trains for Jammu including two for Katra, the base camp of holy Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine, where the train was expected to reach in next few months, extended route of one train and increased frequency of another. He also proposed electrification of railway tracks in Jammu and said he would pursue for more routes in Jammu and Kashmir including Bilaspur-Manali-Leh and Jammu-Poonch via Akhnoor.
In another significant announcement in his maiden railway budget, Mr Bansal said the Railways Ministry in coordination with Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) would explore the possibility of issuing ‘yatra slips’ to Vaishno Devi pilgrims, traveling by rail at the time of booking of their railway tickets.
However, Mr Bansal, a Congress Lok Sabha member from Chandigarh, gave a miss to popular demand of the people of both Jammu and Kashmir and Chandigarh for Jammu-Chandigarh train. Various political leaders had projected the demand before Mr Bansal ahead of the railway budget but it didn’t find favour with him. Worthwhile to mention that various patients to PGI Chandigarh and students studying in the Union Territory had to face tough task of proceeding either by the bus or taking train up to Ambala to visit Chandigarh.
Mr Bansal announced four new trains for Jammu including two for Katra, where train was expected to reach in the next few months. The new trains included Bathinda-Jammu Tawi Express (weekly) via Patiala, Rajpura, Katra-Kalka Express (bi-weekly) via Morinda, Kota-Jammu Tawi Express (weekly) via Mathura, Palwal and New Delhi-Katra AC Express (6 days a week).
Jammu Tawi- Barauni Express was being extended up to Bhagalpur while frequency of Kanpur-Jammu Tawi Express was proposed to be extended from one day a week to two days.
The Railways Minister has proposed electrification of two railway sections in Jammu including Chakki Bank-Bharoli-Rawi & Budhi-Ujh-Jammu Yard and Udhampur-Manwal. Among new railway line proposed to be completed in 2013-14 was Udhampur-Katra.
Mr Bansal, in his budget speech, said he would pursue for approval of certain rail projects of national importance including Bilaspur-Manali-Leh and Jammu-Poonch via Akhnoor.
With train set to reach holy town of Katra in the next few months after several hiccups including problems at a tunnel between Udhampur-Katra section, Mr Bansal said the Railways Ministry would explore feasibility of issuing ‘yatra slips’ to pilgrims traveling by rail at the time of booking of the railway ticket in coordination with Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.
“This would mean that the pilgrims booking rail tickets for Katra would not require ‘yatra slips’ from the Shrine Board counter at Katra town provided that the proposal matured between the Railways and the SMVDSB’’, sources said, adding that the proposal could benefit a large number of pilgrims of Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine.
Last year, over one crore pilgrims had visited the holy cave shrine while the Shrine Board authorities were expecting the number to go up further with arrival of the trains in Katra town.
The Railways Minister had another significant announcement for Jammu and Kashmir in the rail budget—launching a multi-modal travel package with cooperation of Jammu and Kashmir Government enabling passengers to travel from Jammu through Udhampur, Qazigund to Srinagar and Baramulla on a common rail-bus ticket.
He said the Railways formed a popular mode of travel, both for domestic and foreign tourists. The common rail-bus ticket would make the experience of tourists more pleasant, he added.
He announced that completion of national project of Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla and other such projects of strategic importance would be taken up on top priority.
“Security of the nation is paramount and our brave soldiers make immense sacrifices to safeguard our frontiers. Providing need based rail connectivity to border areas is uppermost on Railways’ agenda. The national project of Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla is a strategic importance and would be taken up on top priority’’, Mr Bansal said.
He announced that the Railways Ministry would impart skills to the youth in Railway related trades in 25 locations spread across the length and breadth of the country with a view to contributing to the national skill development programme of the Government.
Srinagar was among the 25 locations identified by the Railways Ministry.
The importance the Railways Minister gave to Jammu and Kashmir in his first ever rail budget could be well gauged from the fact that in the very second paragraph of his budget speech, he said his though goes to a particularly severe cold spell during the recent winter when it was snowing heavily in Kashmir Valley and suspension of road and air services had brought life to a grinding halt.
“Photographs in newspapers showing a train covered with snow emerging from a similar white background carrying passengers traveling over the recently commissioned Qazigund-Baramulla section instilled in me a sense of immense pride’’, he said.
He recalled the inspirational words of Christine Weatherly on the photographs:
When you travel on the railway,
And the line goes up a hill,
Just listen to the engine
As it pulls you with a will.
Though it goes very slowly
It sings this little song
“I think I can, I think I can,’’
And so it goes along.