Sonia, PM to launch rail link to Kashmir on June 26



New Delhi: The much-awaited railway section linking Kashmir Valley with rest of the country will be launched on June 26 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi will jointly flag off the first train.

The 18-km-long section between Banihal in Jammu and Qazigund in Kashmir will provide an all-weather surface link to the Valley which often gets cut off from the rest of the country due to snowfall during winters.

Northern Railway is coordinating with the Jammu and Kashmir government to arrange bus service from Uddhampur to Banihal for passengers to avail train service for the Valley.

"The bus service will be available from Udhampur to facilitate passengers availing train from Banihal next month," a senior Northern Railway official said.

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.

"It 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.

Train service is already operational within Kashmir valley in the 118-km-long route between Qazigund and Baramulla in north Kashmir.

"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.

Work on this section was executed by IRCON, a PSU under railways. It will have two main railway stations - Banihal in Jammu division and Qazigund in Kashmir division.

In addition to these stations, a halt station is also being provided at Hillar village in Anantnag district for the convenience of local public.

IRCON Director (Works) Hitesh Khanna said commissioning of this section would help realise the dream of connecting Jammu region with Kashmir valley. He said it was Maharaja Pratap Singh who first explored the possibility of connecting Jammu to Kashmir Valley with a railway line way back in 1898.

PTI