Banihal station. File picture
New Delhi, June 23: Kashmir’s century-old dream of rail connectivity with Jammu is set to become a reality.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi will flag off the first train connecting Banihal in Jammu with Qazigund in Kashmir on Wednesday.
The 18-km-long track will pass through the country’s longest Pir Panjal tunnel.
In his first visit to the Valley since Afzal Guru’s execution, Singh will dedicate the rail link to the people.
The visit comes in the backdrop of peace overtures by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. There is hope that New Delhi will broaden the ambit of consultations on Kashmir to start a “constructive dialogue” with all shades of opinion.
Singh will push for a peace deal in the strife-torn part of the country and the rail link with its profound impact on the economy is expected to give the process a boost.
“The rail line would connect the Kashmir valley with Jammu, which would bring about socio-economic transformation. It would boost tourism in the region and help in the easy movement of people,” Saifuddin Soz, president of J&K Pradesh Congress Committee, said.
This rail section is very significant because it will provide an all-weather link to the Valley, which often gets cut off from the rest of the country because of snowfall.
Hitesh Khanna, director (works) of Ircon, which is executing this section of the project, told The Telegraph that Maharaja Pratap Singh had first explored the possibility of connecting Jammu with Kashmir with a railway line in 1898.
The tunnel, constructed at a cost of Rs 1,691 crore, is the third longest railway tunnel in Asia after Taihang Tunnel (28km) and Wushaoling Tunnel (21km) in China.
The 11.2km tunnel — also called the T-80 — has been constructed by using the New Austrian Tunnelling Method for the first time.