New Delhi: The much-awaited railway section, providing all-weather surface link to Kashmir valley, will be launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on June 26.
Singh and Gandhi will jointly flag off the first train on the 18-km-long section between Banihal in Jammu and Qazigund in Kashmir, marking start of the service.
The Banihal-Qazigund section, which includes an 11-km-long tunnel, will reduce the distance from 35 km (by road) to 18 km. It has been constructed at a cost of Rs 1,691 crore.
This rail section is very significant as it will provide an all-weather link to Kashmir valley which often gets cut off from the rest of the country due to snowfall during winters.
Passengers travelling by train from Kashmir valley to Banihal can avail bus service from there till Udhampur where train service is available for rest of the country.
Northern Railway is coordinating with Jammu and Kashmir government for arrangements for the bus service.
"The bus service will be available from Udhampur to facilitate passengers availing train from Banihal next month," a senior Northern Railway official said.
Train service is already operational within Kashmir valley in the 118-km-long route between Qazigund and Baramulla in north Kashmir.
"It (Qazigund-Banihal section) was a challenging task. Besides the difficult terrain, land was acquired for the Kashmir rail link project in adverse law and order situation in the state," the official said.
"The mandatory inspection of the track by Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) is being done and the clearance is awaited. The line is expected to open on June 26," the official said.
Trial run on this section was successfully done on December 28 last year and since then trains carrying stones are running on regular basis.