After missing several deadlines, the Railways has finally got the mandatory safety clearance from the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) to commission the much-awaited train service to Katra, the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, before the Rail Budget 2014-15. The 25-km long Udhampur-Katra rail section in Jammu and Kashmir is slated to be inaugurated by this month-end by Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda.
The CRS had conducted the inspection of the Udhampur- Katra line, constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 1,050 crore, for three days from January 27. There were certain issues raised by the CRS and the mandatory clearance was obtained this month after those were addressed, said a senior railway ministry official.
Although a date for opening of the Katra line is yet to be finalised, it will most probably be before the Rail Budget as all preparations for the inaugural run are almost complete, the official added.
The NDA government's first Rail Budget is expected to be presented on July 9. Ahead of that exercise, railways has hiked passenger fares by 14.2%.
There has been a trial run of the Udhampur- Katra service after it got the CRS clearance.
The 53km-long Jammu-Udhampur rail line is already operational and once the Udhampur-Katra line, which is a part of the Kashmir rail link project, is made operational, the trains will be able to come up to Katra directly. That would enable pilgrims headed to the Vaishno Devi shrine to travel directly to the base camp at Katra.
Railways is considering extending Jammu Mail and Sampark Kranti trains up to Katra, besides introducing new trains, including Katra-Kalka Express, Delhi Sarai Rohilla-Udhampur Express, and Ahmedabad-Udhampur Express.
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 are also likely to be introduced to cater to the rush of Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims from Jammu and Pathankot to Katra.
An estimated 10 million devotees visit the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine every year.
The line to Katra has seven tunnels and over 30 small and big bridges. Katra station has been completed with modern facilities, including tourist guide counter, cloak room, waiting hall, VIP lounge, escalators and lifts and parking space on either side.