A long route to Jammu
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On Friday, as a train chugged through the country's longest railway tunnel to cross the mighty Pir Panjal mountains for the first time, it was history for the Indian Railways. But for Kashmiris, this wasn't merely the first all-weather link to the outside world but also an initiative that is likely to boost the economy. Twenty-nine years after the rail project was conceived, the train finally crossed the mountains. However, it is a long way to go before Jammu is connected with Kashmir through a railway line.
The work on the railway line was started simultaneously in Jammu and Kashmir. After missing several deadlines, the train started to run through the plains of Kashmir in 2009. It took seven years and three inaugurations by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to throw open this 119-km stretch for the people of the Valley.
Though by the late 2009 the Railways had linked Kashmir's Baramulla district in the north to Qazigund in the south, it was not seen as a viable option by those travelling to Srinagar, because of it bypassing the city by more than 15 km. However, people travelling long distances preferred the railways over passenger vehicles because it's hassle-free and cheaper.
The new stretch that connects Qazigund, the southern most point of Kashmir, to Banihal in Jammu region is likely to attract more number of commuters. The 11.2 km-long tunnel that connects Qazigund and Banihal would not only reduce the distance between the two places by half but also provide a dependent link to Kashmir that will remain open throughout the year — irrespective of rain or snow.
The Kashmir rail project was conceived in 1983, but it got impetus only in 2002 when it was declared a national project. Though the 53-km Jammu-Udhampur stretch was thrown open several years ago, the biggest challenge for the Railways was the 148 km stretch from Katra in Jammu to Qazigund in Kashmir due to inhospitable terrain and deep gorges. This phase of the project has already missed its deadline, which has now been set for 2017. The Valley is eagerly looking forward to that day when its people can travel in a train from Srinagar to Jammu.