Banihal (Jammu & Kashmir), May 29: Indias longest rail tunnel that will link the Kashmir valley to the rest of India should be commissioned by the end of 2012, believe the rail authorities.
We are standing 1,100 metres below the ground on the northern side of the 11km long tunnel passing through Pir Panjal mountain range. It will link Qazigund in Kashmir with Banihal in Jammu. We are hopeful that Banihal-Qazigund rail line comprising the longest tunnel in the country will be commissioned by December 2012, Northern Railway chief administrative officer Chahatey Ram said.
The tunnel, being bored with the latest technology, will change the way people travel in the state.
Hitesh Khanna, director (works) of Ircon, which is executing the project, said work had been completed in 10.4km. Ircon is a PSU engaged in construction for the railways.
Around Rs 7,165 crore has been spent on the project so far, and an estimated Rs 1,100 crore budgeted for 2011-12.
The total cost of the project is Rs 19,500 crore.
Upon completion, the tunnel called T-80 will be the second longest rail tunnel in Asia, next only to the 20km Wushaoling tunnel in Gansu, China. The 6.5km Karbude tunnel of the Konkan Railway is the longest in India at present.
The Banihal-Qazigund project is part of the 345km Jammu-Udhampur-Katra-Qazigund-Baramulla railway line, the biggest construction project in the mountains since Independence.
While the 53km Jammu-Udhampur section was opened to the public in 2005, the 119km Qazigund-Baramulla route on the Kashmir side has been made operational in 2009.
The Banihal-Qazigund section is part of the 129km Katra-Qazigund line, which is being built by the Northern Railways, Konkan Railway Corporation and Ircon.
These trains have changed our life. It is cheap and time saving, too. It is generating new employment opportunities and bringing in new hope for the people cut off from rest of the state, Shabir Ahmed, a passenger waiting to board the train from Srinagar to Qazigund, said.
The hour-and-a-half long train journey from Srinagar to Qazigund costs Rs 12, much less than the bus service of over eight hours costing more than Rs 100 per trip.
Rehman Ali, who works in a private firm, said, I can now think of commuting from Qazigund to Srinagar daily, which was next to impossible earlier. This way, I can be with my family and earn a living. The train service is operational even during harsh winters, unlike buses, which get stuck because of snowfall.
Once the full section is operational, the Valley will be connected with the mainland in all weather conditions, Rajesh Agarwal, general manager (projects) of Konkan Railway, said.
The T-80 is strategically important as the only road link via the Jawahar Tunnel, which connects Jammu with Kashmir, is often blocked because of snowfall.