Baramulla- Banihal train service resumes after 11 months

Passengers travelling in a train in Kashmir on Monday. —Excelsior/Shakeel
Passengers travelling in a train in Kashmir on Monday. —Excelsior/Shakeel

Suhail Bhat

Srinagar, Feb 22: After remaining suspended for nearly 11 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baramulla- Banihal rail service partially resumed today with strict adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
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The train chugged off at Baramulla Railway Station at 9.10 am with nearly 70 passengers on board, while another train departed from Banihal station at around 11.25 am with 300 passengers. The officials said they made sure that the passengers adhere to all norms and SOPs related to COVID-19 on the stations and while traveling in trains.
“All the protocols including maintaining social distance, wearing a mask and sanitizing the coaches were followed. Initially, there will be only two trips between Banihal and Baramulla,” Chief Area Manager Northern Railways for Srinagar, Saqib Yousuf told Excelsior.
Tweeting about it, Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said on Sunday, “Railways to resume train operations in Kashmir valley on Banihal-Baramulla section from February 22, with two services operating initially. This will enhance ease of movement and provide a big boost to the tourism sector.”
The Government halted the train service on March 21 after the UT administration announced lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In between, an official said, a four-day special run of Vistadome coach was conducted for shooting a documentary.
Since the railways here generate revenue from the sale of passenger tickets, snapping of services resulted in a revenue loss of crores of rupees.
The back-to-back lockdowns that the Valley saw last year upset the train services on the 135 kilometer Banihal-Baramulla railway line in the Valley. The train services came to a halt on 5th August after the annulment of Article 370 and stood halted for over three months. “We restarted the services on 12th November 2019 and the train chugged uninterruptedly for the next four months,” a Railway official told Excelsior.
Meanwhile, the passengers were thrilled to board the train after a long time. “The train services will end our daily travel woes like grinding traffic halts and unnecessary stoppages and we will reach our destination on time. The trains are a safe and convenient mode of transport and restarting services will provide relief to the people. People should wear masks and maintain social distancing,” Mufti Mehraj ud Din Khaqi, a commuter from Banihal, said.
The travelers were disappointed with a sudden fare hike. “The passenger fare from Banihal- Baramulla has risen from Rs 20 to Rs 40. This sudden hike in the fare has worried the commuters and the Government should reconsider it,” Mohamad Shabir Banday, a commuter said.
Asked about the fare hike, the Chief Area Manager said they were running mail express and its fare is slightly higher than the normal train. “There is no hike in the fare. We are actually running a mail express which is slightly expensive,” he said.