M A I N   N E W S

Manmohan flags off first Udhampur-Jammu train
S.P. Sharma & Tripti Nath
Tribune News Service

Udhampur, April 13
As a Baisakhi gift for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, inaugurated the 55-km-long Udhampur-Jammu rail link by flagging off the Uttar Samparak Kranti Express here this morning.

This is the first train connecting this mountainous district with the rest of the country.

The inauguration of the rail link is being seen as a significant step towards the realisation of the ambitious project of connecting the Kashmir valley with the rest of the country with rail link.

The Prime Minister announced that the construction of the railway track between Udhampur and Baramula would be completed in 2007. The government has earmarked a sum of Rs 1000 crore for the project that is aimed at accelerating development of the state. The Jammu-Srinagar rail link has been accorded the status of a national project and it would not be allowed to starve for funds, he said.

He also announced that the railway track between Jammu and Jalandhar would be doubled.

Dr Manmohan Singh said during his last visit to Jammu he had said the Centre would take steps to make the state prosperous and the rail project was a step in this direction.

He said the Centre would leave no stone unturned to accelerate development in the state that was braving terrorism and other challenges. “We are committed to usher in a new era in Jammu and Kashmir so that the people of the state get happiness and prosperity”.

The Prime Minister stressed that the Centre wanted to make people of the state partners in development. He asked the state government to allow the benefits of the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Indian Constitution to its people by giving more powers to panchayats.

Among others who spoke on the occasion were the Railway Minister, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Governor, Lt-Gen S.K. Sinha (retd), the Chief Minister of J&K, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Union Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad and the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Mangat Ram Sharma.

This was Dr Manmohan Singh’s second visit to the state in the last six days. He had visited Srinagar on April 7 to flag off the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.

The foundation stone of the rail link at Udhampur, which is headquarters of the strategic Northern Command of the Indian Army, was laid by the then Prime Minister, Ms Indira Gandhi, in 1983 and it has taken 22 years to complete the 55-km-long track. The track passes through terrorism-affected areas and it would be a challenge for the security forces to protect it.

The broad gauge line constructed at a cost of Rs 515 crore, passes through the terrorism-affected mountainous terrain and has 158 bridges and 10 tunnels. The longest tunnel is 2.45 km long. The Uttar Samparak Kranti train would run between Udhampur and Delhi thrice a week and cover a distance of 641 kms in 11.20 hours.

Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav announced that one member of each family whose land had been acquired for the rail project between Udhampur and Baramula, would be given employment in the Railways. Catering jobs would also be given to the local people.

He said it had been decided to set up a sleeper factory at Kathua and a unit for manufacturing rail tracks at Manwal, near here.

He said a sum of Rs 100 crore had been earmarked for the project in the current year. Mr Azad said the rail line would make travel to Vaishno Devi shrine easier. The Mufti said the rail link would result in the development of the area and the places en route.

Meanwhile, as the Prime Minister pressed a button to give green signal to the train, a group of youth raised slogans demanding the implementation of the Wazir Commission report which was an election promise of the Congress.

The progress of the project was slow because of scanty allotment of funds. The work gained momentum after 1994. During his visit to Srinagar in May 2002, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had announced that the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramula line would be completed within five years and the first train will enter the Kashmir valley before August 15, 2007.

Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development, Gulam Nabi Azad said the inauguration of the Udhampur-Delhi train will reduce the travel time of Vaishno Devi bound pilgrims. Instead of travelling till Jammu, they can now travel to Udhampur which is closer to the Vaishno Devi shrine.

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