LAHORE - Pakistan and India yesterday extended for three years the rail communication agreement between the two countries.

Diplomats of both the countries signed the extension agreement from January 19, 2016, to January 18, 2019, a railway official told The Nation.

The rail agreement was originally signed in Islamabad on June 28, 1976, in an effort to normalise relations between the two countries in the light of Simla Agreement (July 2, 1972).

Following the rail agreement 1976, Islamabad and New Delhi started Samjhota Express on July 22, 1976, (twice a week, Tuesday and Friday) between Lahore and Amritsar (India). It was the only rail service between the two countries until the reopening of Thar Express in 2006 which was halted after 1947. Thar Express connects Karachi to Jodhpur (India).

Six kilometres apart, Munabao and Zero Point near Khokhrapar are the two last railway stations of the India-Pakistan border, so the train is also called Munabao-Khoharapar train service.

Prior to 1965, the last Pakistani station was Khokhrapar, about 10km from the border. When the new service (Thar Express) was restarted in 2006, Pakistan constructed a new station called Zero Point, a few hundred meters from the border i.e. where the immigration and customs checks are carried out. Currently, Thar train does not stop at Khokhrapar.

Before 1947, the Sindh Mail used to travel to Ahmedabad from Karachi via Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Khokhrapar, Munabao, Barmer, Luni, Jodhpur, Pali, Marwar, Palanpur and Ahmedabad (India). The link was destroyed during the Pakistan-India War of 1965 and revived on February 18, 2006.

The railway official, on the condition anonymity, said the rail traffic between the two countries remained ineffective during the past four decades though the agreement has great importance and facilitates Pak-India rail communication both in respect of goods and passenger traffic.

“Even India cancelled Samjhota Express in the name of security on different occasions,” he said. He viewed the rail traffic, especially of freight, could gain momentum in the coming days as both the countries were inching towards normalising relations these days.

“Yes, it depends upon the relations between the two countries. The railways of Pakistan and India could generate a lot of revenue if trade between the two countries resumes,” he said when asked about the future of railway service between Islamabad and India. The official added the Pakistan Railways was reviving now as the number of locomotives both in passenger and freight sectors had increased.

“The Railways is running six to eight freight trains per day now whereas its number was zero some two years back,” he said.