Kashmir's Long Wait For Rail Link Gets Over Today

Kashmir's Long Wait For Rail Link Gets Over Today

24 June 2013
The Indian Express
Mir Ehsan

Srinagar: In the foothills of the majestic Pir Panjal range, the Banihal railway station is being decorated with flowers, as officials of the Northern Railway, police and district administration give final touches to the arrangements that will welcome Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on June 25. The PM is scheduled to inaugurate the 17.5-km rail track between Qazigund in Kashmir to Banihal in Jammu region. The railway track passes through the 10.96 km-long Pir Panjal tunnel. It is believed to be India's longest and Asia's second longest tunnel. The trial run of the train has already been completed. A team of high-level officials from New Delhi monitored the CRS inspection on the stretch and gave clearance for running the train on this stretch. 'We have completed all formalities required to open this vital stretch. It is ready for inauguration,' said Deputy Chief Engineer, Railways, Vinod Kumar. The Banihal railway station is located close to the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and has been closed for civilians; only Railways and security officials are allowed inside the station. Inside the station, men are busy cleaning the marble floors and rooms are being decorated. The train to be flagged off by the PM stands near the station. On Wednesday, senior Railways officials inspected the final trial. A small helipad has been prepared close to the station where the PM's chopper will be landing. Officials say that the PM will inaugurate the rail link either at Qazigund or Banihal, and both the places have been sanitised and prepared for the inauguration ceremony. Deputy General Manager of IRCON Ravi Kumar said that the track has been handed over to the Railways. 'For us it is a great day as the train will chug for the first time outside the Valley and it will get connected with the Jammu region after passing through the Pir Panjal tunnel. Not only will it save time but also run throughout the year, irrespective of harsh weather conditions,' he said, adding that on behalf of the IRCON, the tunnel was constructed by Hindustan Construction Corporation. The new stretch that connects Qazigund, the southern most point of Kashmir, to Banihal in Jammu region is likely to attract a large number commuters. The tunnel constructed at the cost of Rs 1,6291 crore, connecting Qazigund with Banihal, will reduce the distance between the two places by half - from 35 km by road to 17.5 km by train. The tunnel has a parallel 3 metre wide road for the movement of small vehicles - to be used in case of any exigency, especially during winters when the tunnel is likely to be closed for days together. 'For us, this track is a big gift. Now we can easily reach Srinagar within two hours,' said Manzoor Ahmad Dar, who lives at nearby Zenhal village. 'Everybody is happy. We have been waiting for this for the past one decade; finally it is a reality,' he said. Fayaz Ahmad, a resident of neighbouring Cherhal village, closely watched the trial run of the train. 'I want to board the train on day one; I can't believe that the train has finally reached our town,' he said, adding that the rail connectivity will solve many problems of the area. 'In winter months, our town gets cut-off from the rest of the state. The train will solve this problem. In winters, people die due to lack of medical facilities in our region. Now, we can take patients to Srinagar within a few hours.' 'For us, this rail link means more business,' said Ravi Krishan who has opened a tea stall outside the railway station. Officials said that though the train has crossed the Pir Panjal range, it will take years to get it connected with the rest of the country. The work between Banihal and Katra - that will connect Kashmir with the rest of the country - is going on.