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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Jammu and Kashmir railway milestone masks delay in connecting Valley with country’s rail grid

The Prime Minister inaugurated the Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangaldan section that includes the Sangaldan Tunnel — the country's longest railway tunnel. The project is part of the 111km Banihal-Katra stretch, the last leg of the 272km Udhampur-Baramulla rail link

Muzaffar Raina Srinagar Published 21.02.24, 07:55 AM
Jammu and Kashmir’s first electric train being flagged off at the Srinagar station on Tuesday.

Jammu and Kashmir’s first electric train being flagged off at the Srinagar station on Tuesday. PTI picture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday inaugurated a 48km stretch of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) that cost Rs 15,863 crore and includes India’s longest rail tunnel.

Modi also virtually flagged off two electric trains simultaneously — one from Sangaldan to Srinagar and the other from Srinagar to Sangaldan.

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Although it's a significant milestone for the railways, it masks their likely failure to connect Valley with the country’s rail grid even during Modi’s second term. Nearly 63km of the USBRL still remains to be commissioned.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday inaugurated the Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangaldan section that includes the Sangaldan Tunnel — the country's longest railway tunnel spanning 12.77km. The work on the tunnel had started in 2014.

The project is part of the 111km Banihal-Katra stretch, the last leg of the 272km Udhampur-Baramulla rail link.

According to the Northern Railway (NR), trains can now run from Baramulla to Sangaldan via Banihal.

“Once the complete USBRL opens in the coming months, passengers will enjoy infrastructural marvels, such as the Chenab bridge, the highest railway bridge in the world, and the Anji bridge, which is the first cable-stayed bridge of the Indian Railways,” a Northern Railway official said.

The USBRL project is expected to cost Rs 41,119 crore.

The railways has been working overtime to connect Kashmir with Kanyakumari through a rail link — the project first proposed by Dogra ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1898 — ahead of the general election expected in April or May.

The project has missed multiple deadlines. Lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha last year said the project would be through by March 2024, which seems unlikely.

“The dream of connecting Kashmir and Kanyakumari through train has progressed further. Some moments earlier, the train has moved from Sangaldan to Baramulla via Srinagar. That day is not far when people in Kashmir will sit in the train and travel to all parts of the country,” Modi told a crowd in Jammu, without giving a deadline.

Some reports claim that the USBRL will be completed in July or August. Railway officials including spokesman Deepark Kumar did not respond to calls and text messages from this newspaper.

A flash report prepared by the government’s infrastructure and project monitoring division this week showed the USBRL project had recorded the maximum delay — 20 years and 15 months — among all 848 projects being monitored by it in the country.

The Jammu-Baramulla rail link achieved its first milestone in 1983 with the train reaching Udhampur. After that, there was no progress for years until 2001 when then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared the USBRL rail link a national project and set a deadline of 2007.

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