New Delhi: After a prolonged wait, pilgrims from all over the country can directly reach Katra, the base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, by rail from Friday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will flag off the first train.
Nestled in Trikuta Hills, it will be known as Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Katra station, which will have three platforms.
After missing several deadlines, the 25 km long Udhampur- Katra line will be finally commissioned on July 4, marking the successful laying of railway tracks in a difficult terrain.
Estimated to cost Rs 1,132.75 crore, it will take about 30 minutes to complete the journey from Katra to Udhampur. There are seven tunnels and over 30 small and large bridges on the route.
According to a senior railway official, there will be a small station - Chakrakhwal - between Udhampur and Katra.
The 53-km Jammu-Udhampur rail line is already operational and after the Udhampur-Katra line, which is a part of the Kashmir rail link project, is made operational, trains will be able to reach Katra directly. That would enable pilgrims headed to the Vaishno Devi shrine to travel directly to the base camp at Katra.
According to the official, Railway Protection Force (RPF) has been stationed at vulnerable locations all along the track in protected bunkers to maintain round-the-clock vigil.
Railways is considering extending the Jammu Mail and Sampark Kranti Express up to Katra, besides introducing new trains, including Katra-Kalka Express, Delhi Sarai Rohilla- Udhampur Express and Ahmedabad-Udhampur Express.
There are demands from several zones for train services to Katra.
A set of local trains from Jammu to Katra and Pathankot to Katra are also likely to be introduced to cater to the rush of Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims. An estimated 10 million devotees visit the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine every year.
Katra station has been completed with modern facilities, including tourist guide counter, cloak room, waiting hall, VIP lounge, escalators and lifts and parking spaces.