Palampur (PLMX): With electioneering picking up in the Kangra valley, expansion and conversion of the Kangra valley rail line into broad gauge has once again become a hot political issue. Various political parties, in their election campaign, are coming up with a promise with residents of the Kangra valley for converting the Kangra valley narrow-gauge rail line into broad-gauge track and linking Pathankot with Leh via Manali.
The Congress as well as the BJP have made this issue a major poll promise because of the fact that at present, this rail line is in a state of neglect. In the last rainy season, the train service on this track remained suspended for a month owing to poor maintenance and lack of funds with the railways to repair and replace the old bridges and retaining walls which cause hardship to residents.
The British had laid down this 120-km rail track in 1932, linking important and religious towns of Kangra and parts of Mandi district. A number of plans were drawn up to convert this narrow-gauge line into a broad-gauge line, but all remained confined to files. The condition of the rail track between Pathankot and Jogindernagar has gone from bad to worse in the past 10 years.
In 2003, when the NDA was in power at the Centre, the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee planned to link Pathankot with Leh in Jammu and Kashmir via Manali.
Later, in 2008, when the BJP government headed by Prem Kumar Dhumal was voted to power in the state, it again raised this issue with the Centre and asked PM Manmohan Singh to declare it a national project.
The UPA government turned down the proposal on the pretext of financial crunch. Dhumal apparently made efforts to convince the Centre to clear this important project. He is said to have offered to acquire land free of cost for the project from Joginder Nagar to Keylong, but there was no headway.
With a manifold increase in population and the tourist traffic in Kangra valley, the Railways failed to come up to the expectations of locals. Century-old engines and coaches are still plying on this track. The authorities could not introduce a regular first-class compartment here. At present, seven trains ply on this route every day, covering 33 stations and passing through places such as Nurpur, Jawali, Jwalamukhi Road, Kangra, Nagrota Bagwan, Chamunda, Palampur, Panchrukhi, Baijnath and Joginder Nagar, tourist attractions in the state.