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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 09:30 GMT
India, Pakistan resume train link
Security personnel checking railway tracks
Pakistani officers checked tracks for explosives before departure
A train has arrived in India from Pakistan, marking the resumption of rail links between the two nuclear rivals after a gap of two years.

The popular Samjhauta (Friendship) Express arrived in the border station of Attari from the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The two countries broke off most ties in 2001 after India blamed Pakistan for involvement in an armed attack on the federal parliament in Delhi.

Relations have improved recently and bus and air links have been restored.

Earlier the Samjhauta Express, with freshly painted green and yellow coaches decorated with bunting, crossed the Wagah border between India and Pakistan before proceeding to Attari.

The first train was only partially full, with a little over 60 passengers.

The resumption of train service is another landmark step towards peace between India and Pakistan
Khurshid Khan
Chairman Pakistan Railways

Most said complicated visa procedures meant that many could not make the trip.

Sheikh Ausaf Ahmed said the train passengers had to travel all the way to Islamabad to get their visas.

The twice-weekly train connects Lahore with Atari and is the cheapest option for most passengers, compared with bus and air services.

"I prefer the train because the tariff is within my reach," said Zahid Gugarman, a student returning to India after visiting relatives in Pakistan.

After completing customs and immigration formalities, passengers will take connections to other parts of India.

An overnight train from Delhi arrived at Atari station early on Thursday and passengers awaited the Samjhauta Express to take them on to Lahore.

"The resumption of train service is another landmark step towards peace between India and Pakistan," Khurshid Khan, the chairman of Pakistan Railways, told AFP.

Talks plan

On Wednesday, India and Pakistan agreed to continue a bus service linking Lahore with Delhi for another five years.

The bus service was launched in 1999 after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee travelled to Lahore for talks with then Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif.

PIA office in Delhi
Flights have already started

Also on Wednesday, Delhi and Islamabad announced they would increase the number of diplomats stationed in the two capitals and lift restrictions on their movements.

Mr Vajpayee held groundbreaking meetings with the Pakistani leadership in Islamabad last week.

Direct talks on a range of disputed issues, including Kashmir, are to be held next month, the two sides have said.

Both Pakistan International Airlines and Indian Airlines have resumed flights linking Karachi and Lahore with Bombay (Mumbai) and Delhi.

Although transport links have resumed, stringent visa restrictions remain in place between the two countries.

Thousands of families were divided when the border between India and Pakistan was drawn up in 1947.

For the past two years, those wishing to meet their relatives have had to undertake costly, cumbersome journeys via a third country.

The move to revive commercial air and rail links follows the restoration of a popular bus service between Delhi and Lahore last summer.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Anderson
"One of a series of confidence building measures"



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