Safari Train service reflects hard-won gains against terrorism

By Danish Yousafzai

The re-invigorated Safari Train is shown at Attock railway station in Punjab February 12. The train is expected to promote the hard-won peace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  [Danish Yousafzai]

The re-invigorated Safari Train is shown at Attock railway station in Punjab February 12. The train is expected to promote the hard-won peace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  [Danish Yousafzai]

PESHAWAR -- The Safari Train, which provides Pakistani tourists a chance to discover history and landscape via the railway, has increased its frequency of service in light of improving security.

For many years the train only ran on holidays or during festivals, but for the past few months it has been operating bi-weekly service.

The train runs from Peshawar to Attock in Punjab Province, a journey extending 78 km.

The Safari Train is a joint venture of Pakistan Railways and Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP).

For eight years, from 2002 to 2010, the train was forced to close because of terrorist activity in the area.

Speaking to a new generation

Railway officials hope to re-acquaint Pakistanis with railway heritage and with the landscape of the route, which includes lush green fields, various memorials, Attock fort and many Hindu and Sikh temples.

"The new generation is not familiar with trains," Muhammad Ali Sayed, spokesman for TCKP, told Pakistan Forward. "It is a unique way for the tourist to discover the beauty and historical sites of Pakistan."

The terrorism-weary public is welcoming the train and other tourist opportunities after various military operations put terrorists on the run, he said.

Those offensives include Zarb-e-Azb, launched in North Waziristan in June 2014, and Radd-ul-Fasaad, launched nationwide in February.

"After the successful military operation against militants, our people are enjoying the secure environment," Ali Sayed said.

Wajid Jabbar, 16, of Peshawar has fond memories of taking the Safari Train to Attock last year.

It was his first railway journey ever. "I've seen trains on screen but never travelled on one," he told Pakistan Forward. "I'll advise other kids to ... enjoy the experience."

Another satisfied passenger is Masooma Kulsoom Mir, a homemaker from Peshawar. She heard about the train from a friend and took her children on it, said Masooma.

"The government should promote such activities in the province because the the security situation is much better than before," she told Pakistan Forward. "Our children should have entertainment opportunities."

A distinguished history

After Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Pakistan Railways began operating a weekly Safari Train between Peshawar and Landi Kotal, Khyber Agency, according to the railway. That service eventually ended because of financial losses, but in the 1990s, a private firm collaborated with Pakistan Railways to operate the Khyber Safari Train.

When the railway decided to resume the Safari Train, it determined that rebuilding the track to Landi Kotal -- washed out in a 2006 flood -- was not feasible and that the security situation in Khyber Agency was not suitable, Saeed Khan, another TCKP spokesman, told Pakistan Forward.

As a result, the train now runs to Attock, Punjab, rather than to Landi Kotal.

"People were demanding the Safari Train resume running," said Khan, adding that it is family friendly and secure.

TCKP is planning to reintroduce soon a Safari Train to Landi Kotal, said Ali Sayed, given the dramatic improvement in security of the past two years.

Such a train would provide recreation and generate considerable revenue, he said.

If that dream comes true, tourists would have a choice of trains to Attock and to Landi Kotal, said Ali Sayed, adding, "They could visit Attock and Landi Kotal in the same week."

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Safari train service to Landikotal may be restored and service may be started To Attock Khurd Station.