By mid-2013, Katra, a destination in Jammu near Vaishno Devi temple, one of the main Hindu pilgrim destinations, is set to become accessible by rail.
At present, the nearest railhead to Katra is Jammu, from where people travel by road for about two hours along the hills to reach Katra.
The train journey will be more comfortable, cheaper and picturesque compared to the road option, though the time saved may not be significant, as the train will chug to Katra through Udhampur.
About 20,000-25,000 people visit Katra everyday, according to industry estimates. Along with a train connection to Katra, pilgrims will get accommodation as well as shopping and food outlets on the first floor of the railway station. Tickets for the shrine will also be available at the station.
The Railways expects that the track to Katra will be ready by May.
“By May, a 25-km rail track between Katra and Udhampur should be ready for trial run. Udhampur is already connected to Jammu,” said B.D Garg, Chief Administrative Officer, Udhampur Srinagar Baramullah Railway Link (USBRL), Northern Railway.
The Katra-Udhampur rail link is important as it will connect Katra to the country’s rail network. The link, expected to cost about Rs 990-1,000 crore, is part of the Jammu-Udhampur-Katra-Quazigund-Baramulla rail line, designed to provide an alternative route to Jammu and Kashmir.
The train journey between Udhampur and Katra will, in several parts, be a ‘tunnel trip’ as about 11 km, or 44 per cent of the Udhampur-Katra section, is through tunnels.
“We have designed the station eyeing the tourist potential of the place, with lifts, hotels and cloak-rooms,” Garg said.
It can accommodate long trains of up to 26 coaches, has three passenger platforms, and can also handle a freight train. The entire first floor of the station has been allotted to Railways’ tourism arm, Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), which will pay 40 per cent of its revenues to the Indian Railways.
IRCTC has further entered into a build-operate-transfer contract with another firm, which already runs a hotel — The Vaishnodevi — in Katra.
The firm’s Managing Director, Rakesh Wazir, who is also Vice-President of the Hotel and Restaurants Association, Katra, said an average of 25,000 passengers visit Katra every day.
Anticipating an increase in tourist inflow through trains, commercial real estate prices near the station have zoomed. In the last three years, when work on the station started, over 20 hotels have come up on the road to the railway station, said Garg. Wazir claimed that commercial real estate values on the station road have gone up five-six times during the last three years.