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Protests stall Valley train trial run

Srinagar, Dec. 27: The first trial run of a train connecting the Kashmir Valley with Jammu’s Banihal and passing through an 11km tunnel, Asia’s second-largest, was cancelled today following protests by villagers demanding a halt.

Divisional railway manager Naresh Goyal didn’t specify the reasons for the cancellation. But a railway source said the trial would be held tomorrow.

Work on the 17.7km stretch was completed recently at an expenditure of Rs 1,691 crore. The 11.21km Pir Panjal tunnel on the route is the longest in Asia after the 20km Wushaoling tunnel in China’s Gansu.

The stretch, connecting Banihal with Qazigund in the Valley, is one of the most treacherous zones in the Kashmir rail project. Once it is opened, it will halve the road distance of 35km between the two points.

Today, hundreds of protesters took to the roads near Qazigund demanding a halt at Hilad, their village nearby.

Railway officials said the residents wanted to set up stalls in their village so that they can make a living selling to the passengers.

“The trial train had covered a distance of only 4.5km when it was halted by villagers. They were assured that their demand will be taken up by higher authorities but they were not convinced,” a source said.

The stretch is part of a larger 292km link in Jammu and Kashmir divided into three sections — Udhampur-Katra, Katra-Qazigund and the Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla. The Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla link in the Valley is functional for the past four years. But the two other routes have to be completed to connect the Valley with the rest of the country by rail.