Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flags off the train at Nowgam railway station in Srinagar on Saturday. (PTI)
Nowgam, Oct. 11: The land of the shikara today heard the chugging of a train for the first time.
A diesel engine carrying excited schoolchildren rattled through Kashmirs paddy fields, past green mountains and over bubbling streams, as the Valley saw its century-old craving for a train service fulfilled during one of its most troubled times.
There were few at hand to cheer the moment, though. The Valley was seething after police firing killed two men yesterday during protests against the visit of the Prime Minister, who flagged off the train at Nowgam railway station, 12km from Srinagar city centre, this morning.
Most of Srinagar was under virtual curfew – the authorities did not officially declare one only to avoid embarrassing Singh, Sonia Gandhi and the other VIPs who had arrived for the trains inauguration.
There is no curfew in the city, Srinagar police chief Ahfad-ul Mujtaba said. On the ground, however, the thousands of police and CRPF men demanded curfew passes from anyone who wanted to go anywhere.
The separatists replied with a civil curfew to protest Singhs visit, paralysing the rest of the Valley and keeping traffic off the roads.
The roads, however, werent where history was marking its milestones today.
Its a historic day for Jammu and Kashmir. From today onwards, people can travel 66km in Kashmir by train, said railway minister Lalu Prasad.
The trains first passengers were 100 students from local schools. This is the first time I am travelling on a train. I am so happy, chirped little Assma.
Muneer Ahmad Lone, whose family had to give up a slice of its land for the tracks, was not so happy. At last we have the train here, but will it bring peace to Kashmir? he asked.
Like the shikara, the Kashmir train too will offer the rest of India a unique ride.
Because of Kashmirs climate… the train has been provided with a heating system for a quick and trouble-free start in winters, an official said.
The drivers cabin has a heating and defogging unit to take care of cold climatic conditions and is fitted with a single lookout glass to provide a wider view. A snow-cutting cattle guard attached at the front end of the train will clear snow from the tracks during winter.
Todays inauguration was largely symbolic since the most difficult part of the project – the 148km stretch from Katra in Jammu to Qazigund in Kashmir that will connect the Valley with the rest of the country – will take at least four more years.
Still, a beginning was made today with the free ride from Nowgam — which will be Kashmirs main station — to Anantnag and back. Tomorrow, the train service will start officially, covering the 66km between Rajwansher in Budgam and Anantnag in south Kashmir four times a day (see chart below).
On this section, the government is building a 1.3km bridge across the Chenab that will be the worlds highest railway bridge in terms of its height from the riverbed – all of 359 metres. Towards the Qazigund side, the line will have a 10.96km tunnel piercing the Pir Panjal range.
An additional blessing would be the construction of 500km of roads to give villages, many of which have no roads, access to the stations.
The train will leave Rajwansher at 7.10am and arrive at Anantnag at 8.45am. After the 9.05-10.40 return journey, it will start out again at 2.25pm, reach Anantnag at 4, depart at 4.15 and finish the days journey at Rajwansher at 5.50.
It was Dogra ruler Maharaja Pratab Singh who had first proposed a rail link to Srinagar in 1898. The plan was revived when, during Partition, Jammu got de-linked from the countrys rail grid.
The government then proposed that a line be built from Pathankot in Punjab to Jammu and then be extended to Kashmir.
A preliminary survey was done but the project was shelved because of the huge costs involved.
Kashmir has Atal Bihari Vajpayee to thank for the train service which, as Prime Minister in 2001, he had declared a national project.
Anantnag to Rajvansher
- Distance: 66km
- Fare: Rs 15
- Journey time:
1hr 35 minutes
- Stops: Budgam, Srinagar,
- Frequency: Twice daily
- Maximum speed:
- Coaches: Eight, with 90
- Who will benefit:
Employees and students
who travel to Srinagar daily