Thursday, June 27, 2013

PM, Sonia flag off first train to Kashmir Valley
Majid Jahangir/TNS
Banihal, June 26
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday inaugurated a rail line to connect the mountain-locked Kashmir Valley with the rest of the state and in future link the region with the country.

The 17.7-km rail link connects south Kashmir’s Qazigund town with Banihal town of Jammu region. The train chugs through an 11-km tunnel that cuts through the mighty Pir Panjal range and is the country’s longest and Asia’s second longest.
The new section, constructed at a cost of about Rs 1,700 crore, offers an all-weather surface link to the Kashmir region and reduces travel time to around 35 minutes for the return trip. Kashmir has remained connected with the rest of the country through a 300-km mountainous highway that would shut down in rain and snow.
Flanked by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Union Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and state Congress president Saifuddin Soz, the Prime Minister flagged off the first train. He and the UPA chairperson were the first passengers on the train along with a group of Kashmiri schoolgirls.
Speaking on the occasion, the PM termed the Jammu-Udhampur-Katra-Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla line as a “national dream”. “Today, we dedicate an incredible engineering marvel to the nation and the country. It has been carved out of the majestic Himalayas by technical experts and workers of the Railways,” he said. “As this project gathers pace, we will connect this line with other networks of India. Work on the Katra-Udhampur section will be completed in a few months.
After that, the only work left is on the section connecting Udhampur with Banihal, which is the most challenging,” he said.
Once Udhampur is connected with Banihal, which is expected to happen in 2017, it will link the Kashmir train with other networks of the country.
The 11-km tunnel on the Qazigund-Banihal section is fitted with CCTV cameras (every 62.5 metres), a linear fire detection system, a firefighting system (hydrants every 125 metres), emergency phones with communication to the control room (every 250 metres) and fire extinguishers and fire alarms every 250 metres.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah termed the inauguration of the Banihal-Qazigund section as a “historic event”, saying the link provided physical connectivity between Kashmir and the country. “It has not only linked the areas and the regions, but hearts as well. I have taken many train journeys, but I will always remember this ride with the children,” he added.

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