New Delhi: In a major step towards connecting Kashmir with outside by rail, the long-awaited Banihal-Qazigund section will be commissioned within the next two months, providing an all-weather means of transport to the Valley.
This decision was taken at a high-level meeting held by the PMO to review progress of various infrastructure projects of Jammu and Kashmir.
The meeting chaired by Pulok Chatterjee, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, decided that the Banihal-Qazigund section of the Jammu-Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail line will be commissioned in April-May this year.
The rail link, which has strategic and socio-economic significance, reflects technological excellence as it includes a 11.215-km-long tunnel, the longest rail tunnel which reduces the distance between Qazigund and Banihal by 17 km compared to road.
The rail tunnel will facilitate all-weather connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir, which gets disconnected by road during winters due to snowfall.
The tunnel is equipped with the state-of-the-art air quality monitoring system, ventilation system, communication system, fire fighting system and emergency rescue system in case of emergency.
The tunnel's average elevation at 1,760 m (5,770 ft) is 440 m (1,440 ft) beneath the existing road tunnel.
The Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel is India's longest and Asia's third longest railway tunnel. China's Taihang Tunnel (28 km) is the longest and Wushaoling Tunnel (21 km) the second longest.
Till the Udhampur-Banihal section is constructed by 2018, people can travel from Baramulla in the Valley to Banihal by train and then take road to catch train again in Udhampur to Jammu and beyond.
At the meeting in the PMO which was attended by secretaries of various central ministries and Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, it was also decided that power transmission and distribution network strengthening works in the state would be completed by March next year.
The meeting also decided that the 44 MW Chutak hydro electric project in Kargil would be fully commissioned by October 2013. The project, executed by the National Hydro Power Corporation, was initially to be commissioned in August 2011.
Another crucial power plant in Ladakh—the 45 MW Nimoo Bazgo hydro electric plant—will be completed by December this year, it was decided. The project is one of India's high altitude stations located at a height of 11,000 ft in Alchi village, 70 km from Leh.
Secretaries of New Delhi have been asked to intensively monitor these projects, the PMO statement said.
The PMO is geared to convene a series of meetings in the near future to ensure that the timelines are met, it said.—PTI