Anantnag: Indian railway minister Suresh Prabhu announced on Thursday that a Vistadome train would soon be launched in the Kashmir valley.
The announcement has come at a time when Northern Railways has looked the other way while existing trains in Kashmir are in dire need of at least 200 glass windowpanes, broken during the frequent clashes the Valley bore witness to in 2015.
Ironically, a Vistadome train has coaches with glass roofs and larger-than-usual windowpanes which present a ‘view’ to commuters.
Prabhu made the announcement while remotely inaugurating five new halt railway stations on the Baramulla-Qazigund section of the Kashmir railway line.
“The Chief Minister and I have talked about how to increase tourism by means of the Railways. So we will soon start a Vistadome train,” Prabhu said. “When people come to see the beauty of Kashmir, how will they see it sitting inside a train?”
He maintained that an order had already been placed with coach factories.
Locals as well as Railway officials, however, are taking the announcement with a pinch of salt, given the fact that the department has miserably failed at maintenance on Kashmir’s existing train network.
As per official reports, more than 200 train windowpanes had been damaged in the 2015 clashes.
Two years later, the authorities are yet to replace the panes, putting commuters to extreme inconvenience.
“We used some spare panes and later covered the windows with plywood sheets, after getting nothing from the Northern Railways despite repeated reminders,” a well-placed Railways official told Kashmir Reader.
The decision to use plywood was taken after commuters complained regularly of the intense chill during winter.
The official said that a single pane cost about Rs 15,000 to 20,000, “which is not a big deal for the Railways, but there has been no response whatsoever.”
Repair for this year’s damages, however, will require an increased outlay, for it includes the front windshields of two trains smashed during the clashes.
“The front windshield costs around Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. I wonder when those will be replaced,” the official said.
Recently, on June 3, the engine of a train caught fire near Qazigund. If sources are to be believed, poor maintenance was to blame. Sources say the train caught a minor fire due to overheating in the absence of proper engine coolant.
The official could not be persuaded to declare whether he thought plying a glass-roofed train in Kashmir was a good idea or not.
“It is a political announcement, and I won’t read much into it,” he said.
Regular commuters, meanwhile, scoff at the announcement while they wonder at the fate of the train.
“Glass-roofed trains? Really? Do you see that ugly plywood on those windows? They have not replaced broken glass panes, and now propose a train that is mostly glass. That is really laughable,” said Imtiyaz, a daily commuter.
Another commuter, Imran Saleem, wonders about the fate of the train if it gets caught in clashes.
“Imagine a train with a roof of ply wood,” he says.