Prayers are answered. The long waited 25-kilometer rail link between Katra and Udhampur, in Jammu and Kashmir, will be opened on July 4 as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flags off the first train that will make life easier for around 10 million pilgrims who visit the Vaishno Devi shrine every year. The train will enable them to travel directly to the base camp in Katra.
Built at a cost of around $200 million USD, the train to Katra is part of the larger Kashmir rail link project to spur the region’s connectivity to the rest of the country.
This rail link is significant because it signals a determined step towards improving rail infrastructure within India and to bolster regional connectivity, say experts. C. Raja Mohan, strategic analyst, says that the new rail link should goad the new government to raise the bar for the connectivity project. “In Jammu later this week, Modi must outline some ambitious goals and make them part of the rail budget. He could promise to complete, on a war-footing, the railroad to Srinagar, which was first mooted way back in 1898 by Maharajah Pratap Singh. He could commit the government to expand the rail networks in the northeastern region,” he wrote in the Indian Express. “Equally important is a vision for expansive railway cooperation with the neighbours. India can easily improve rail connectivity with Bangladesh and Nepal and extend the rail network into Bhutan. He could offer to work with Pakistan in upgrading the shared rail networks.”
Apart from launching the rail service, Mr. Modi is expected to engage in a security review meeting of the situation in the state with army, paramilitary and intelligence officials. During the day-long visit, he is also scheduled to inaugurate a 240 megwatt hydro-power project of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation on river Jhelum in the border town of Uri.
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