The Banihal-Quazigund railway section, providing all-weather surface link to Kashmir valley, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday in Kashmir. They jointly flagged off the first train on the 18-km-long section between Banihal in Jammu and Qazigund in Kashmir, marking start of the service.
While speaking on the occasion Sonia Gandhi said that the Congress-led UPA Government at the centre believes in inclusive growth. “UPA Government at the centre believes in inclusive growth. We also take measures for welfare and upliftment of the people at far-flung areas who are deprived off basic facilities. This was the vision for ‘Bharat Nirman’ of late Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, who had drafted a road-map for the modern India. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi followed his foot- steps. The UPA Government at centre under the leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh also has been following this vision of development” said the Congress President.
The UPA Chairperson also praised the Omar Abdullah led government in the state. “The National Conference (NC)-Congress coalition government in the state has initiated several development processes to transform the state. The people also are appreciating these efforts. The turn-out in the recently held Panchayat elections in the state undoubtedly prove that the people of this state are fed up with the violence and they want to live in peace and harmony” said Sonia Gandhi.
“The youth here want good education, better job opportunities and a bright career. Similarly, the Kashmiri women want to be self-reliant and they look for positive changes in their daily life. The UPA Government has therefore launched schemes like HIMAYAT and UMEED”, she added.
“The people of Kashmir have the potential and talent to surge ahead and to build a bright future. We need to continue our efforts for development, based on secularism and inclusiveness. We will stand by the people of Kashmir and will together work to ensure their good future” assured Sonia Gandhi while concluding her speech.
Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah along with Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad were also present on the historic occasion.
The Banihal-Qazigund rail section, which includes an 11-km-long Pir Panjal 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. The tunnel is the biggest in India and Asia's second longest after China's Wushaoling. The tunnel link will also provide an alternative link to the existing Jawahar Tunnel and will eventually make the Valley accessible by train through the Jammu-Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla railway route. An eight-coach train will start regular operations from Banihal to Baramulla from June 27. The tunnel has been constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 1,300 crore and taken almost seven years to complete. It has been constructed using New Austrian Tunnelling Method, which has been used for the first time on such a large scale in India. This rail section is very significant as it will provide an all-weather link to Kashmir valley which often gets cut off from the rest of the country due to snowfall during winters.
The Banihal-Baramulla-Banihal train will make five trips daily beginning at 7.10 AM from Banihal and 7.35 AM from Baramulla. Passengers travelling by train from Kashmir valley to Banihal can avail bus service from there till Udhampur where train service is available for rest of the country.