Katra, Jul 4: The Mata Vaishnodevi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir can now look forward to a larger turnout of pilgrims after the train service to Katra, the base camp for the pilgrimage, was today inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Mata Vaishnodevi pilgrimage yearly attracts about 10 million pilgrims although, thus far, the only access to Katra was through National Highway 1-A. Pilgrims from Kerala, Odisha, Maharashtra, West Bengal and other parts of the country come to the shrine on a regular basis, said an official of the Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board, adding that direct trains may now be planned from places like Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Delhi.

Work on the 25-km long Udhampur-Katra rail link had begun in 2005 but took nine years to complete due to problems posed by the hilly terrain, which also forced railways to change the alignment in between.

Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda said that the rail link will hand an opportunity to scores of people to make the pilgrimage. He further said that the Katra line marks a milestone in the railway’s efforts towards fulfilling the aspirations of the public.

Forty per cent of the Katra-Udhampur route is covered by tunnels and there are also seven major bridges. The bridge on Jhajjar river enroute is the longest steel girder bridge in the country at a height of 85 metres and two spans of 154m each. The rail link has 22 curves.
To conquer the Shivaliks, innovative approaches were adopted to ensure the highest standards of operation and safety, said Gowda.

The rail project has permanent jobs for 700 persons whose land was taken over for the laying of the line. As part of the project, 235-km length of approach roads to worksites were constructed to provide road connectivity to far -flung villages of Jammu and Kashmir.

There are about 1,000 taxis currently operating here and the number is likely to increase now after the inauguration of the rail link. Gowda along with Minister of State Manoj Sinha also visited the shrine after the launch.