History and hope ride on Kashmir’s hi-tech train

October 11th, 2008 - 6:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghSrinagar, Oct 11 (IANS) Bedecked in flowers, it rolled out of the Nowgam railway station near here, looking like a dream. Many hoped the red and green train - the first ever in the Kashmir valley - would be the harbinger of good times in this trouble-torn land.”The train decorated with garlands of marigold looked like a dream. It seemed so comfortable when I peeped inside. I have travelled on the Delhi Metro and found that our train has similar facilities inside,” said Nazir Ahmad, 42, who lives in Nowgam and was present at the inaugural function Saturday.

The eight-coach diesel electric multiple unit (DEMU) train that was flagged off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday is a pageant of technology and hope for many in the valley. It will connect the south and central Kashmir districts of Anantnag and Budgam respectively.

For the small group of people who gathered at the railway station, seeing was believing.

“I came here to see the prime minister flag off the train on its first ever run and it has been a memorable experience for me,” said Ahmad.

A group of 100 children, holding colourful buntings, was taken on the inaugural run from Nowgam to Kakpora, the first station about 20 km away.

Surrounded by mountain peaks, the Nowgam station has all imaginable modern facilities for its passengers and is second to none in the country.

Spacious waiting rooms with comfortable cushioned seating arrangements, attached bathrooms, luggage trolleys, heating and cooling arrangements are just some of the modern facilities that people will get used to in the days to come as rail travel becomes popular here.

The train - each coach has a capacity of 90 passengers - has brought with it many hopes.

“I wanted to be there personally since I had looked forward to a train in Kashmir for many, many years. I saw the inaugural function on TV. It is a dream come true,” said Muhammad Shafi, a trader in Srinagar.

“The train in Kashmir is going to be a milestone for our economy though its impact will definitely take some time to register with the local people,” he said.

Though entry was highly regulated because of the prime minister’s security, those who managed to get into the station definitely realised they had been witness to a historic event that would change the face of the valley’s economy in the days to come.

Joy was writ large on the faces of many even though a shutdown had been called by separatists and curfew-like restrictions imposed in parts of the city to thwart protests on the occasion.

“The coaches are air-conditioned and I was told these have special heating arrangements to combat the cold weather of the valley,” said Ahmad.

The coaches have wide windows for a panoramic view while one travels on it. It has anti-skid flooring, sliding doorways, attractive colour schemes and executive class reclining seats inside.

The driver’s cabin has a heating and defogging unit to take care of cold climatic conditions and is fitted with single lookout glass windows to give a wider view.

“A snow-cutting type cattle guard has been attached at the driving end of the train for clearing snow from the tracks during winter,” an official of the northern railways told IANS here.

In view of the peculiar climate of the valley, the 1,400 horse power diesel engine for the train has been provided with a heating system for a quick and trouble free start in the winters.

A public information system with display and announcement facilities are included in the coaches which have pneumatic suspension for better riding comfort, the official said.

There is also a compartment for physically challenged people with wider doors for comfort.

The Kashmir train will start operations between the south and central Kashmir districts here Sunday and will take 1 hour and 35 minutes to complete the 66-km journey between Rajwansher in Budgam district and Anantnag.

Each passenger will pay Rs.15 for the one-way journey on the train.

To begin with, the Kashmir rail service will have stations at Budgam, Srinagar (Nowgam), Pampore, Kakpora, Awantipora, Panjgam, Bijbehara besides Rajwansher and Anantnag in the valley.

A train to Kashmir has been a promise the central government had made two decades ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday not only fulfilled that promise, but on a symbolic level also assured Kashmiris of a prosperous future.

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