In an epoch making event, the Kashmir valley saw for the first time the flagging of a broad gauge train by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, fulfilling partly, the dream project of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpai, who declared the project as National Project in 2001. The Train would run 66 Kms from Rajwansher in Srinagar to Anantnag twice daily and back, taking 1 hour and 35 minutes one way.
Digging into history a bit, Maharaja Pratap Singh of Dogra hierarchy first contemplated a rail link to Srinagar in 1898. Starting with the first steaming of Railways in 1953, India already had more than 30000 miles of railways by the end of 19th Century. Although the plan of the maharaja could not be materialized at those times, the matter was revived after the partition in 1947 when Jammu got de-linked from the rest of the country. A 105Km rail link constructed and started operating between Pathankot-Jammu Tawi in 1970 at the behest of Indira Gandhi, who also kicked off the Jammu- Udhampur line in 1983 with a five-year completion schedule. But after her abrupt death, the 55 Km line could be commissioned only in 2004.
Back again with the main topic, amid tight security with an undeclared curfew in the valley and a ‘counter curfew’ by the separatists, the train was flagged off with 100 school children as first passengers. Dignitaries present were Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, JK Governor N.N.Vora and other officials from rail and state governments, apart from the Prime Minister. The cheer people were significantly absent because of the prevailing situation in the Valley.
Railway minister Lalu Yadav, who has achieved the status of an icon for his success in turning around the Indian Railways from loss making entity to a proverbial hen laying golden eggs, was very happy saying, “It is a historic day for people of Kashmir who can travel now 66km by train.” But a land donor for this line had other things in mind when he expressed doubt about return of the elusive peace in the tormented valley in spite of the new railway era.
Work on this railway line was just a modest beginning, being a small part of the overall project of joining Kashmir valley with rest of India. The most difficult part being the stretch between Katra in Jammu to Quazigund in valley, a distance of about 150Km including an 11 Km long tunnel to cross Pirpanjal Range and is likely to take five years to complete. The stretch Quazigund to Srinagar (about 75Km) and then to Baramula (50Km) is easier to construct, as most of the track would be on flat valley. If every thing goes on as per planning, one can expect to reach Srinagar directly by train from standard railheads in India in about five years time.
Once completed, the 345 km Jammu-Srinagar-Baramula rail travel is likely to present the best scenic beauty in the world, along with the Houseboats and Sikaras of Dal Lake.