18-km Banihal-Qazigund rail link will boost tourism, trade: Manmohan
The Jammu region is now connected with the mountainous Kashmir Valley through a rail network. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi flagged off the train from Banihal to Qazigund.
The 18-km-long Banihal-Qazigund rail link, which includes the country’s longest transportation tunnel – over 11-km long – through the Pir Panjal range, was executed by Ircon at a cost of Rs 1,672 crore.
Banihal, a tehsil in Jammu region, is separated from Kashmir valley by the Pir Panjal mountain range.
The Prime Minister, who boarded the train for a journey across the 11-km tunnel through the difficult and beautiful terrain of the Pir Panjal ranges, later assured Jammu and Kashmir of “all possible support” for its development.”
Singh said the rail link to Kashmir would boost tourism, movement of people, business and enable more employment opportunities for the people of the State, he said.
TRAVEL TIME SLASHED
The benefits of this train include providing faster, cheaper and more comfortable connectivity between Banihal and Kashmir valley through the year.
People can now commute between the two places in about 12 minutes by train, said D.P Choudhury. General Manager, Ircon, the Indian Railways’ construction arm.
At present, its takes over an hour to commute by road, if there are no traffic jams. The alternative route is through the Jawahar Tunnel, which is part of a national highway.
In cost terms, people will have to spend below Rs 20 by train, almost one-seventh of the Rs 150 that they pay to move through shared Tata Sumos.
In distance terms, the tunnel will reduce the train track distance to almost 18 km compared with the road distance of about 36 km between Banihal and Qazigund.
Also, there will be all-weather connectivity as the approach roads to Jawahar tunnel often get clogged during the winters.
Additionally, real estate prices in Banihal have shot up 10-fold in the past six years, ever since Railways started working on the project.
RAIL LINK GAP
The new train also narrows the link gap between the 64,000-km rail network spread across the country and the 135-km network in the Kashmir Valley, which is yet to be connected with the vast Indian Railway network.
To build the missing rail link of about 111-km between Katra and Banihal, the Government has officially set a target of 2018, which may be a difficult task given the bridges, tunnels and difficult terrain.