At the prodding of the PMO’s prodding, the critical Banihal-Qazigund rail section will expectedly be commissioned by May at the PMO’s prodding, making the Kashmir valley accessible throughout the year putting an end to its isolation during winter.

The 17.7 km long section which comprises the longest rail tunnel in the country passing through the Pirpanjal Himalayan ranges that separates the valley from the Jammu region and the rest of the country was tested in the last week of December.

IRCON which is executing the project at an estimated cost of Rs. 1670 crore was expected to complete the other mechanical and electrical jobs by March. The commissioner of railway safety too was expected to give his clearance for operation within this stipulated period.

Taking cognizance of the failure to abide by the deadline, the PMO held a meeting on Friday, took stock of the situation and directed that the section be commissioned within the next two months--- April-May. The Prime Minister’s principal secretary Pulok Chatterjee chaired the meeting.

The trial run of the first train in December tested the single broad gauge track of the 11.215 km long Pirpanjal tunnel, constructed at a cost of Rs. 1172 crore. It also has a three metre wide maintenance and emergency road route.

IRCON declared that it would be able to provide world class ventilation in the tunnel apart from installing safety emergency lighting, sensors for detection of obnoxious gases and fire and linear fire alarm systems by March notwithstanding the severe winter.

This deadline to connect Qazigund the last station in the valley with Banihal in the Jammu region opening up Kashmir to the rest of the country has been missed.

When commissioned, this section will allow connectivity to passenger trains right upto Baramulla via Srinagar.

The 345 km long Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla section will get operational in entirety in 2017 when Banihal is connected with Katra.

Till then visitors will have use the road route upto Banihal and take the rail route that beats the weather condition providing an all weather connectivity.

The PMO also set deadlines for completion of strengthening of power transmission and distribution networks in Jammu and Kashmir by March 2014, while directing that the 44 KW Chutak Hydro Electric Power project in Kargil by October.

Similarly the deadline for 45 MW Nimoo Bazgo Hydro Electric Project in Ladakh is expected to go critical by December.