After a prolonged wait, pilgrims will be able to directly reach Katra, the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, by rail after Prime Minister Narendra Modi flags off the first train from the station nestled in Trikuta Hills in Jammu and Kashmir's Reasi district tomorrow.
The train for Jammu will chug along the newly constructed line from the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra Station after Modi along with Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda waves the green flag. The train will traverse through seven tunnels and over 30 small and large bridges.There will be a small station - Chakrakhwal - between Udhampur and Katra. The 25 km long Udhampur-Katra line, which is being commissioned tomorrow after prolonged delays, has been built at an estimated cost of Rs 1,132.75 crore.
Trains will be able to reach Katra directly as the 53-km Jammu-Udhampur rail line is already operational and now the Udhampur-Katra line, which is a part of the Kashmir rail link project, is being commissioned. This would enable pilgrims headed to the Vaishno Devi shrine to travel directly to the base camp at Katra. "Till now there are three local train services between Jammu and Udhampur and all these will now be extended to Katra," said a senior Railway Ministry official.
Railways is considering extending Jammu Mail and Sampark Kranti Express up to Katra, besides introducing new trains, including Katra-Kalka Express, New Delhi-Katra AC express. There is also a possibility of launching a new train between Varanasi and Katra, said the official, adding the purpose is to connect two holy places by train.
According to the official, there are demands from several zones for train services to Katra. A set of local trains from Jammu to Katra and Pathankot to Katra is also likely to be introduced to cater to the rush of Vaishno Devi pilgrims. An estimated 10 million devotees visit the shrine every year.
Railway Protection Force (RPF) has been stationed at vulnerable locations all along the track in protected bunkers to maintain round-the-clock vigil. Katra station is equipped with modern facilities, including tourist guide counter, cloak room, waiting hall, VIP lounge, escalators and lifts and parking spaces.