Today's Paper

All set for train to Pakistan, first in 41 years

Sunny Sebastian

JAIPUR: An Indian train would cross the international border on the western front to enter Pakistan after a gap of 41 years on Saturday. From now on, for the next six months, it is the turn of the Indian Railways to run the good old Thar Express, which links Munabao in Barmer district of Rajasthan with Khokhrapar in Sindh province of Pakistan.

The occasion marks the completion of the first six months of the landmark agreement signed between India and Pakistan for the running of the train, which has proved to be a big hit with people on both sides of the border. Since its start on February 18 this year, the Thar Express has carried 26,000 passengers so far, bringing together families from the two countries separated from each other for decades.

There will be no celebrations when the Indian train crosses the border to reach the newly built Zero Point station in Pakistan on Saturday morning at 11 (10-30 as per Pakistan Standard Time). The Railway authorities insist that the recent strains in the relations between the two countries have got nothing to with the low-key launch of the train from the Indian side.

"It is going to be a very normal thing. The passengers even will not know they have crossed the border," says S. B. Gandhi, Deputy General Manager of North-Western Railway, here. "We don't think the occasion needed a celebration."

Pakistan has granted 30 visas to Indian Railways staff for entering that country. In the first six months of the operation of the Thar Express so far the train from Pakistan side had travelled in Indian territory up to Munabao station. Now the train from the Indian side would enter Pakistani territory.

The train, which would leave Jodhpur on Friday night at 11-30, is scheduled to reach Munabao at 7 on Saturday morning. The Zero Point station is 2.5 km from Munabao, the last railway station on the Indian side. Though the Thar Express route is between Munabao and Khokhrapar, Pakistan this time has built a new station closer to the Indian border.

Up to 1965, trains from the Indian side used to go up to Khokhrapar station. Though Munabao is now a world-class railway station, the Zero Point station in Pakistan is said to be lacking in facilities. Khokhrapar station is about 15 km from the Zero Point station.

The number of passengers aboard both the trains the train from the Indian side and the one travelling from Pakistan simultaneously to exchange passengers at Zero Point would be 400 each though the demand for seats in the train is much more. The number of passengers aboard the train at one point of time had swelled to 1,100, but now it has been decided -- following a demand from the Pakistan authorities -- that the maximum number of tickets issued for each trip would not exceed 400. As such the train has five reserved coaches and two general coaches.

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