New Delhi: From the next year, Udhampur-Katra rail line will become operational that would enable the pilgrims of Vaishno Devi shrine to travel directly to Katra base camp.

While the Katra station is almost ready, work on the Udhampur-Katra line is underway and expected to be commissioned by December 2012, a senior Northern Railway official said.

The 53-km long Jammu-Udhampur rail line is already operational. Once the 25-km-long Udhampur-Katra line which is a part of the Kashmir rail link project, is operational then trains can come directly to Katra from anywhere, he said.

Katra town in Reasi is the base camp for pilgrims to Vaishno Devi shrine where an estimated 10 million devotees pay obeisance every year.

The Udhampur-Katra rail route, estimated to cost Rs 960 crore, passes through inhospitable terrain making it an extremely challenging engineering project.

The official said that the 25-km-long route consists of seven tunnels and about 30 small and big bridges including a bridge taller than the Qutub Minar. The total length of seven tunnels is 12 km on the Udhampur-Katra rail route. While construction of five tunnels is completed, work is going on in two tunnels - T1 and T3.

The project got delayed because of a problem in T1 and T3 tunnels.

"A portion of 3-km-long T1 tunnel collapsed due to seepage and it was a setback to the project," an official said.

The construction of T3 tunnel also faced problem due to the constant flow of the trapped water in the construction area.

"The problem has been rectified now and the tunneling work is near to completion," he said, adding that the New Austrian Tunnelling Method is being used for all tunnels in the rail route.