New Delhi : The Kashmir Valley will be accessible round the year ending its isolation from rest of India during winter, with the Banihal Quazigund section all set to be commissioned by May.
The prodding to start running trains on this section linking Jammu with Srinagar and Barmulla came from the Prime Minister’s principal secretary Pulok Chatterji who took a meeting in the Prime Minister’s office two days ago to review progress of various infrastructure projects under the PM’s reconstruction plan for the state.
The Railway Ministry sources said the 17.7 km-long Banihal-Qazigund section has been already tested by running a train in the last week of December and ready for commissioning as early as even the next month, though the target is May. The Railways is only awaiting a clearance from the Commissioner of Railway Safety, expected the next week.
This section has India’s longest 11.22 km-long tunnel passing through the Pirpanjal Himalayan ranges that separates the valley from rest of India. Officials of IRCON, a construction company of the Indian Railways, which achieved the marvel of building the tunnel, say there is only single broad-gauge track in the tunnel built at a cost of Rs 1172 crore, with a 3-metre wide maintenance and emergency road running parallel to it.
Commissioning of the Bahihal-Qazigund section will allow connectivity of passenger trains up to Baramulla via Srinagar. However, Banihal on the route is yet to be rail-linked with Katra and hence the people will have to use the road route up to Banihal to get onto the train to Srinagar and Baramulla. The entire 345 km-long Jammu-Srinagar-Barmulla route is to become operational by 2017.
The bad weather, however, will not affect the travellers to the Kashmir valley as the Katra-Banihal road does not have problem of getting blocked during the months of winter.