100 Years On, Kashmir Gets Its First Rail Link

11 October 2008
The Times of India

Srinagar: More than hundred years after Kashmir was promised a rail link, the dream finally got on track on Saturday, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged off the first train connecting Srinagar to Rajwanshar in south Kashmir's Anantnag district. Although the track on which the inaugural run was made was a mere 66 km and the train had only 8 coaches, the significance and symbolism of the flag off goes much farther. The train will not only shrink distances in the Valley and eventually connect it to Jammu, it will give Kashmiris an emblem of pride which the government hopes will dull the shrill cries for azadi and the acute feelings of central neglect. 'It's really good news, at least for my family. My wife has to commute everyday to her office in Anantnag. Travelling on buses gets really hectic for her, but the train promises a smoother journey for daily commuters like her,' said Mushtaq Ahmad Chanda, a resident of Srinagar. But there were apprehensions too. Bank employee Irfat Rasool, who is looking forward to commuting to Baramulla where she's posted, fears the train could be a target for militants. Dispelling the apprehensions, newly-appointed SSP railways (Kashmir), G A Dar, said commuters shouldn't worry. 'The security arrangements are foolproof,' he said. He said CRPF and Railway Protection Force are assisting the state police in securing the railway line. 'But soon, the state police would raise its railway wing to provide security to the track and commuters,' he said. Kashmir was promised a rail link by Maharaja Pratap Singh, the region's Dogra ruler in 1892. The British took up that promise but never delivered and then independent India's governments struggled to make it happen. Strife and terrorism came in the way and the challenge of boring through weak mountains and bridging huge crevasses stalled the project several times. The inauguration comes amid a wave of unrest that has swept the region recently and the tension was palpable on city streets on Saturday. Srinagar wore a deserted look, as security forces erected steel barricades and laid spiked wires on the streets in anticipation of protests. Thousands of additional soldiers in riot gear patrolled the city. Shops, businesses and schools were shut in response to a bandh call by Hurriyat against the PM's visit. On Friday, police fatally shot two people as thousands protested Singh's arrival. At least 75 others, including 34 security personnel, were injured in the clashes. The 117km rail link will connect Baramulla in the north with Qazigund in the south and, eventually, should be integrated into India's massive national rail network. For the moment, only a 66-km stretch was opened and the remaining track will be ready next year.