|First train service for troubled Kashmir
Good for India.... now our kashmiri brothers can travel in trains......
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SRINAGAR, India (AFP) - India's prime minister on Saturday launched Kashmir's first train service, the fruit of an eight-year project that overcame tough terrain and rebel strife, on a visit overshadowed by violence.
Security was tight as Manmohan Singh flagged off the first train to travel along a new 117-kilometre (73-mile) line which it is hoped will help transform the volatile region.
"Our intention is that the future of Kashmir should be socially, economically and politically bright," he said in a pre-launch message.
Singh launched the service from Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, where two Muslims were killed Friday in police shootings on anti-India demonstrators protesting his visit to the revolt-hit region.
Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled Srinagar's streets as shops, schools and offices shut down after separatists and trade unions called a two-day strike to protest the prime minister's visit.
The track links Baramulla town in the north with Qazigund in the south and should eventually be integrated into India's massive national rail network. For the moment, only a 66-kilometre stretch is ready to be used.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and federal railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav were also present during the tightly-guarded ceremony.
Officials said the new Kashmir trains would be guarded against possible attacks by anti-Indian rebels.
"We have set up a separate railway police force wing to guard the railway assets and passengers," police chief Kuldeep Khuda said.
The 20-billion-rupee (470-million-dollar) rail project was started in 2000 and involved thousands of engineers and labourers who had to contend with tough Himalayan weather -- especially in winter -- and rugged terrain.
They also had to work under high security, given the near-constant threat of attack by rebels who have been waging an armed struggle against Indian rule since 1989.
Work was halted temporarily after an Indian railways engineer and his brother were killed by suspected militants in June 2004.
In April 2007, a policeman was killed in an attack on a group of engineers inspecting the project.
The track will have nine stations and a pair of air-conditioned trains with large windows to provide a view of Kashmir's celebrated mountain scenery.
The main beneficiaries are expected to be those in remote areas who previously faced long journeys to larger towns and cities.
"It is a dream come true for us," said villager Mushtaq Ahmed from Baramulla. "I have never seen a train in my life. I will try to be the first from my village to board one."
The journey from Qazigund to Srinagar is a three-hour bus ride, but will take just 45 minutes by train.
"It is a god-sent gift to people like me," said Idrees Ahmed, a student who makes the trip every day to a Srinagar college.
In the second phase, the valley will be linked to the rest of India through Udhampur in Kashmir's south. Currently the only way to reach Kashmir is by a mountainous highway.
The launch came as a top Pakistani security officer arrived in New Delhi for anti-terrorism talks on a visit some officials said was linked to growing security concerns in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country, which has suffered a spate of bombings.
Pakistan's National Security Advisor Mahmud Ali Durrani will meet his Indian counterpart M. K. Narayanan for talks in New Delhi on Monday, the foreign ministry said
"सत्य मेव जयते"
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Last edited by: MGupta on 11-10-08 21:56:08