Kashmir's dream of an all-weather surface link turned into a reality on Wednesday when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi flagged off first train between Banihal in Jammu region and Qazigund in Kashmir Valley.
Singh and Gandhi jointly flagged off the first train on the 18-km-long section between Banihal in Jammu and Qazigund in Kashmir, marking the start of the rail service to the Valley.
The 8-coach train will make regular operation from Banihal to Baramulla from June 27 after the inaugural run on June 26. The Banihal-Baramulla-Banihal train will make five trips daily beginning at 7.10 AM from Banihal and 7.35 AM from Baramulla.
Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vora and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah along withother central ministers Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azadare expected to be present on the historic occasion.
"We have seven pairs of trains to run between Banihal and Baramulla. Earlier there were five rakes only but now it has been increased," said a senior Northern railway official.
The Banihal-Qazigund section, which includes an 11-km-long tunnel, will reduce the distance from 35 km (by road) to 18 km.
It has been constructed at a cost of Rs 1,691 crore. This rail section is very significant as it will provide an all-weather link to Kashmir Valley which often gets cut off from the rest of the country due to snowfall during winters.
Passengers travelling by train from Kashmir Valley to Banihal can avail bus service from there till Udhampur where train service is available for the rest of the country.
Northern Railway is coordinating with Jammu and Kashmir government for arrangements for the bus service. "The bus service will be available from Udhampur to facilitate passengers availing train from Banihal next month," a senior Northern Railway official said.
Train service is already operational within Kashmir Valley on the 118-km-long route between Qazigund and Baramulla in north Kashmir.
"It (Qazigund-Banihal section) was a challenging task. Besides the difficult terrain, land was acquired for the Kashmir rail link project in adverse law and order situation in the state," the official said.