by HC Kunwar
The Udhampur – Katra new railway line, which was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on 4th July 2014, is part of the ambitious 326 Kilometre long Udhampur- Katra-Quazigund- Srinagar -Baramulla Railway Line (USBRL) Project of Northern Railway and will provide a seamless flow of rail traffic through Jammu to Katra via Udhampur through the entire Indian Railways network. The newly constructed Udhampur – Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra Rail Line is 25.6 km. long, consisting of the 9.4 km. long Udhampur- Chak Rakhwal and 15.5 km. long Chak Rakhwal- Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra sections.
This railway line connects the important towns of Jammu region also. Of the towns in Jammu region, Katra, a tehsil of district Reasi, has great importance because this is the place from where the faithful commence their pilgrimage to the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine. So far this town was connected with Jammu Tawi, where devotees usually congregate from all over the country, only through National Highway 1-A. With the completion of the Udhampur-Katra railway line, there is now another mode of mass transportation available to the pilgrims.
This Railway alignment passes through unstable geological formations and highly undulating and difficult hilly terrain of Shivalik & Trikuta ranges of Himalayas. It crosses a number of rivers, nallahs, canals, channels and khads in addition to number of roads, cart paths and footpaths. This rail section serves the district of Udhampur & Reasi. This section has 10.9 km of tunneling, one important, 7 major and 29 minor bridges.
The station on this section is Chakrakhwal in addition to Udhampur and Katra. The construction of the rail line necessitated building of 12 ROB/RUBs in addition to about 38.86 lac cum of earthwork. The approx. cost of this rail section is Rs. 1132.75 crore upto 31st March 2014. The bridge on River Jhajjar is the longest Steel Girder Bridge in India with a height of 85 m and with two spans of 154m each. The rail section has 22 curves with the sharpest curve at 5O. The construction of the entire permanent way and structures on this rail section was a challenging task. Tunnel No. 23 is the longest tunnel on the section at 3.1 km. and it has ballast less track between Udhampur and Chak Rakhwal station.
Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra station is provided with modern passenger conveniences. It is a four line crossing station. Platform No. 1, 2 & 3 the main passenger train dealing platforms are 550m long high level Platform each with 400 m long platform shelter. To facilitate passengers for going from platform no.1 to platform no 2 & 3 and exit from station from Platform No.1, two Foot-over-Bridges, with one side ramp and other side stairs are provided. Lifts have also been provided to facilitate passengers for going from platform no.1 to exit from station. One escalator connecting station building and PF-1 is also provided. Sufficient water booths are provided on all platforms. Public conveniences, water taps, benches, etc. are also provided on all the platforms. One through FOB has been provided for the local people of the town.
The construction of the USBRL project has other benefits for the local residents. More than 235 kms of approach roads are being built along construction sites for carrying of construction material. These roads will benefit the villagers of far-flung areas which had no roads previously. Also 700 of landowners from whom more than 75% of their land was acquired for this project have been given a permanent job in the Railways. At present trains run up to Udhampur via Jammu from the Indian Railway network to terminate there. After the commissioning of Udhampur-Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra section, trains will start operating upto Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra, providing an- all weather connectivity with significantly reduced travel time.
Falling in difficult and mountainous terrain, the State of Jammu & Kashmir has always been a challenge to transportation providers. Other factors which increase the difficulty in providing modes of mass transportation is that the area is geologically unstable, prone to tremors and earthquakes, with deep gorges alternating steep, rocky mountains. For any construction activity, the weather is quite inclement. Long months of incessant rains and heavy snow can put life on hold. Despite these constraints, the lure of the beauty of this area has not been contained. Northern Railway has worked in these circumstances and has constructed the most modern railway line in the Kashmir Valley which provides economical, all weather connectivity, the Banihal – Baramulla railway line which is a part of the 326 km. long Udhampur-Katra-Quazigund – Srinagar – Baramulla railway line (USBRL). This railway line is a project of National importance. The present approximate estimated cost of the USBRL project is Rs 19565 Cr. So far, about Rs. 9666.71 cr has been spent upto 31st March, 2014.
Once completed, the entire network of Indian Railway will be connected to the Kashmir Valley. The Kashmir Valley railway is a 119 km long railway line that became completely operational in October 2009. It connects Baramulla in the western part of Kashmir Valley to Quazigund at the other end of the Valley, via Srinagar. This line has been extended to Banihal through a tunnel T-80 which pierces through the Pir Panjal range, thus providing an- all weather connectivity to Kashmir Valley with the Jammu Region. The residents of the area appreciate the promise of all weather connectivity, especially when other facilities grind to a halt in deep snow.
With the completion of this Udhampur – Katra Section the Kashmir Valley has reached a step closer to being connected to the remaining Indian Railway network. The construction of this rail project despite heavy hurdles signifies the dedication and resolution of Northern Railway in providing rail connectivity to the farthest corners in its jurisdiction.
Four train services upto Katra commenced from July 2014. These are; New Delhi-Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra Express, Pathankot-Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra DMU, Jammu Tawi-Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra DMU and Jammu Tawi-Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra DMU. Indian Railways will run nine more train services connecting Katra in the near future. (PIB Feature)
H.C.Kunwar is Dy. Director (M&C) Railways, PIB New Delhi