Ahead of the launch of prestigious Udhampur-Katra rail project, a high level team of senior officers of Railways headed by Railways Board Chairman Vinay Mittal today had a detailed survey of Udhampur-Katra track including Tunnel No. 1, the major hurdle in the prestigious project after which Mr Mittal announced that the train would reach Katra in August or September this year.
Top official sources told the News Agency that the Railways Ministry, whose additional charge is presently being held by CP Joshi after the exit of Pawan Kumar Bansal in much publicized Railways bribery scam, wanted to get Udhampur-Katra railway project inaugurated at the hands of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his June 25 visit to the Kashmir Valley.
“The team wanted to explore whether it would be feasible to run the trains up to Katra after inauguration of the new rail project by the Prime Minister,’’ sources said, adding that the team inter-acted with the local officials, Railway engineers, experts and those engaged in execution of the project to get detailed appraisal of the project.
However, Mr Mittal ruled out such a possibility saying the train would reach Katra in August or September this year.
“All hurdles in the extension of rail track from Udhampur to Katra have been removed. Problems at Tunnel No. 1 ahead of Udhampur have also been overcome. Now the work is in progress of laying track and, hopefully, the train will reach Katra in August-September,’’ he said while speaking to reporters in Udhampur.
Replying to a question, Mr Mittal said 150 to 200 more long distance trains were being equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) while anti-collision devices were also being installed in the trains.
He added that finishing touches were being given to Banihal-Qazigund main railway tunnel.
To a question on frequent delay in arrival of trains, Mr Mittal attributed it to single track at most of the places. He said the long distance as well as local trains run on same track. Unless there were separate tracks for long distance and local trains, some problems would remain, he said, adding that separate track was being laid for goods trains.
The team would submit a detailed report to the Railways Ministry in the next couple of days on the position of Udhampur-Katra rail track.
The team headed by Railways Board Chairman Vinay Mittal comprised Northern Railways General Manager VK Gupta, Divisional Railways Manager, NC Goyal, Senior Divisional Commercial Manager, Ferozepur Division MM Singh and Divisional Traffic Manager, Jammu, Ram Nath Meena.
The team inspected Tunnel No. 1 on Udhampur-Katra track, which had become a major bottleneck in launch of the rail project to Katra town, the base camp of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine. The project would have been completed much back but for the problems that cropped up in the construction of Tunnel No. 1.
However, most of the problems that emerged in the construction of tunnel have been overcome and the track was now almost ready barring minor hiccups but, sources said, the Railways authorities didn’t want to take any chances. They wanted the project to be inaugurated only when the trains were able to chug smoothly on the track especially if it had to be inaugurated by no less a person than the Prime Minister himself.
Sources said the Department was mulling to extend Jammu Mail and Samparak Kranti, both Jammu-New Delhi trains to Katra from Udhampur, Delhi-Pathankot Express from Pathankot (Punjab) to Katra and introduce new trains including Katra-Kalka (Chandigarh) Express (bi-weekly), Delhi Sarai Rohilla-Udhampur Express, (fully air conditioned) and Ahmedabad-Udhampur Express initially.
Besides a set of local trains from Jammu to Katra and Pathankot to Katra could also be introduced to clear the rush of Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims from Jammu and Pathankot to Katra. At the later stage, more trains could be introduced to Katra or extended from Jammu and Udhampur.
Sources said the trains would link Katra to various major stations of India.
Worthwhile to mention here that the Prime Minister is scheduled to inaugurate Banihal-Qazigund railway line during his June 25 visit to Kashmir along with Mughal Road. The Railways Ministry wanted to explore the possibility on whether the project could be ready for inauguration on June 25.
The high level Railways team headed by the Chairman Railways Board that inspected railway track at Udhampur, Katra and Tunnel No. 1 returned to New Delhi this evening. Sources said that work on 25 km-long Udhampur-Katra rail link is almost complete and Railways will hand it over to Commissioner Railway Safety (CRS) for approval to run trains up to Katra.
“Safety clearance from CRS is mandatory for making new line operational. Barring the laying of ballast-less track on the 3.1 km long T1 tunnel, the most difficult tunnel in the route, all other works in the Katra route are nearly complete now,” sources said.
Katra station is ready with three platforms and two more platforms were proposed to be constructed later. With the commissioning of the new route, pilgrims will be able to reach the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine at Katra without having to break their journey at Jammu.
However, sources were of the view that it wouldn’t be possible to take 30,000 to 35,000 pilgrims daily to Katra by train and other passenger services would remain in force. Half a dozen trains could take 6,000 to 7,000 pilgrims to Katra while others would have to take either local train from Jammu to Katra or travel by bus and other modes of private transport.
The Udhampur-Katra rail route, coming up at an estimated cost of Rs 960 crore, passes through inhospitable terrain, making it an extremely challenging engineering project.
The route consists of seven tunnels and 30 small and big bridges, including a 185-feet high tunnel. A total of seven tunnels span over 10 km of the 25-km stretch.