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Samjhauta Express leaves for Pakistan

Source: PTI
February 22, 2007 01:13 IST
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Reflecting the indomitable cross-border longing for peace and kinship, Samjhauta Express, filled to its capacity, left Delhi late on Wednesday night for Pakistan amidst enhanced security marking its first journey after the deadly blasts on Sunday.

It was a different Friendship Train which chugged out of platform no. 18 of Old Delhi Railway Station one hour forty minutes behind schedule -- all due to security reasons -- with reduced number of coaches from 14 to 10, no unreserved compartments and strict check of passengers and baggage.

However, one thing neither security nor the blasts could alter was the heavy rush of passengers and their desire to meet near and dear ones on both sides of the border.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav himself was present at the station to see off hundreds of travellers and oversee security arrangements.

Over 700 passengers, both Pakistanis and Indians who left for Attari half an hour past midnight -- as against the normal departure time of 2250 hours -- were undeterred by the backdrop of Sunday's terror attack on the train which left 68 dead near Panipat.

In the wake of the Sunday midnight blasts, unprecedented security arrangements were put in place on Wednesday night at the station and passengers had to cross a four-layer check before boarding the train.

No one other than those with valid travel documents and tickets was allowed to enter platform no. 18, where CCTVs caught on camera the movement of each and every person.

The railways had deployed two security personnel and a ticket examiner in each of the 10 compartments as part of the beefed up security measures, which was reviewed by the railway minister an hour before departure.

People stood in long queues in front of the ticket booking windows at the station for the journey. That, coupled with stringent security, was the main reason for the train's delayed departure.

Tight security did cause inconvenience to the passengers, but none seemed to mind it as they said it was necessary in the wake of the twin explosions.

"We are not afraid at all as life and death is in the hands of Allah," Pakistani national Bilkis Shah, who is travelling along with her daughter Zubeida Sheikh and sister Shalimar Banu, said.

Scores of security personnel, bearing special passes, checked each and every baggage item of the travellers as sniffer dogs of the Delhi police searched for any possible explosives.

The movements of passengers were also videographed and photographed, a measure aimed at identifying the travellers.

The passengers included a couple Syed Mohammed Siddique and his wife Hasina, who had missed the ill-fated Sunday train by two minutes.

"We were camping at the station itself for the last four days. We were saved by Allah's grace," the couple said.

The train with a capacity to carry 720 people was full and passengers streamed in even at the last minute.

The railway minister's suprise visit to review security arrangements, though causing delay, came as a boon to several passengers who were stuck in security clearance.

Passengers felt there should be more people-to-people contact between the two countries as this would help normalise relations.

"The government should not stop trains and buses connecting India and Pakistan fearing attacks, as this is the only way for us to keep in touch with our relatives," Mohammed Shameem, travelling along with his Indian wife Ruksana, said.

Another passenger Zubeida said those responsible for the attack on the Samjhauta Express should be brought to book at the earliest. "Such incidents only affect innocents like us."

Among the passengers was a heart patient Abdul Kareem, who was in Delhi for a check up at Apollo Hospital. "I had my angioplasty done. Doctors have told me they will email the results of the tests," Kareem said.

Railway officials travelling on the train also seemed resolved to fight terrorism. "We are not scared and we are running this train to show that we will not be cowed down by such attacks," Veerendera Kumar, a ticket examiner, said.

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