Kashmir Valley to get crucial rail link by May for year-round connectivity

The critical Banihal-Qazigund rail section will expectedly be commissioned by this coming 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 was tested in the last week of December. The rail section comprises the longest rail tunnel in India, passing through the Pirpanjal Himalayan ranges that separate the valley from the Jammu region and the rest of India.

IRCON, which is executing the project at an estimated cost of Rs. 1,670 crore, was expected to complete the other mechanical and electrical jobs by this March. The Commissioner of Railway Safety, too, was expected to give his clearance for operation within March.

Taking cognizance of the failure to abide by the deadline, the Prime Minister’s Office held a meeting here on Friday, took stock of the situation, and directed that the section be commissioned within the next two months. 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.1,172 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 up to Baramulla via Srinagar. The 345-km-long Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla section will get operational entirely in 2017 when Banihal is connected with Katra. Till then, visitors will have to use the road route up to Banihal and take the rail route that beats the weather condition providing all-weather connectivity.

The PMO also set deadlines for completion of strengthening of power transmission and distribution networks in J&K by March 2014 while directing that the 44-KW Chutak Hydro Electric Power project in Kargil be completed by October. The deadline for the 45-MW Nimoo Bazgo Hydro Electric Project in Ladakh is expected to go critical by December.

The section will connect passenger trains up to Baramulla via Srinagar

The Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla section will be fully operational in 2017

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