Valley's First Train A Runaway Success

18 October 2008
The Times of India

Srinagar: A week into running between Budgam and Anantnag via Srinagar - a distance of mere 66 km - Kashmiris are warming up to the first train in the valley judging from the rise in the number of travellers. The station at Nowgam in Srinagar, that looked a tad forlorn the day after the bustle of the first day with VVIP visits, is now resembling a typical Indian railway station with crowds jostling for tickets. Around 10,000 people have taken the train so far and the rising numbers have impelled railway authorities to increase its frequency from two trips a day to three. True, for most passengers, the train is little else than a joyride; however, the number of people for whom it's becoming a dependable lifeline is steadily growing. Shabnum Akhtar and her husband Mohammad Ibrahim Khan of Anantnag took the shuttle to reach the hospital in Srinagar for some urgent treatment. 'We took the train at 9am on Friday and reached Srinagar in one hour. We had to reach the hospital early, and the train made it possible,' said Ibrahim. Ghulam Mohi-ud-din, a constable in the security wing of the police department posted in Srinagar, takes the train everyday from Anantnag to reach his office sharp at 10am. 'It used to take me two hours to reach Srinagar in a cab and cost me Rs 50. The train ticket is just Rs 15 and I save an hour,' he says. Farooq Ahmad Sofi of Mazhama in Budgam was on board with family: wife Shakeela and eight-year-old daughter Fuzia Farooq. 'It was fun to have a train ride. We had never traveled by train and it was a historic day for us to ride the first train in Kashmir,' said Farooq, a school teacher. Farooq also takes pride in the railway property as his own because he contributed a piece of his land to railways for construction of track in his village, Mazhama. Mumtaz Akhtar, 28, of Panzgam in Pulwama, South Kashmir, and her cousins, Ajaz Ahmad, Mohammad Hanief and Gulshah Ara, boarded the train at Panzgam for a joyride to Srinagar and back. Mumtaz narrated her experience of stunning sights to her mother Amina Begum back home on the cell phone as the train chugged past verdant paddy fields. 'It's wonderful to travel like this. I had never ever boarded a train. Thanks to Allah, we have,' said Mumtaz. Like her other co-passengers, she was thrilled and asked the TOI photographer to take her pictures with the train as the background at Budgam station. 'On Sunday, people thronged the station in thousands even when there are only 700 seats in the train,' said Nowgam station master, Zubair Majid. 'My family and I reached Nowgam station at 1 pm even as the train is supposed to leave here at 2.25 pm to Anantnag,' said Farooq Ahmad Sheikh of Sonwar. 'Such was our excitement,' he added. 'But my concern was security of the track, I couldn't see securitymen guarding the track from Nowgam to Anantnag. I am afraid militants may attack the train and blame the government for it,' Farooq said. Indeed, security remains the top priority. SSP G A Dar, who is heading the newly set-up railway protection force, said, 'We have three police stations and six police posts created for railway crimes. Three DSPs will be appointed to ensure passenger safety and secure railway property,' SSP Dar told TOI, and added, 'We plan to install CCTVs soon at the six station to notice public activities and prevent any terror attack.'