Kashmir got its much awaited all-season-transport media on Wednesday with the inauguration of India’s longest rail tunnel link between Banihal and Qazigund regions in the valley. The tunnel is Asia’s second longest after China’s Wushaoling tunnel.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, chief of the United Progressive Alliance, jointly inaugurated the 11 km-long rail line that would cut the road travel distance between the two towns to 18 km from 35 km. The project took seven years to complete.
“Today, we are dedicating a marvelous and wonderful feat of engineering crafted across the Himalayas,” Singh said in a press statement. “This is not just an engineering marvel, but an all-weather link between the valley and the rest of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Addressing the inaugural gathering, Singh said that the railway department had faced considerable difficulty because of the challenges posed by the region’s topography. The railway link will connect Kashmir with the rest of the country and would generate employment to the people of the state.
“This will usher in a new era in the development of the state, providing welfare and employment to the people here,” he said.
Manmohan also urged the railway authorities to complete the remaining projects in the state in timely manner so that the region has an all-weather link to Kashmir.
Singh, along with a group of school children, went on a train journey winding through the 11-km long tunnel under the scenic mountain ranges. On way, he interacted with the students, majority of whom were traveling on-board a train for the first time in their lives.
Besides Manmohan and Sonia, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and central Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former chief minister were present on the occasion.
Singh was on a rare visit to vulnerable Kashmir, just a day after a militant strike in the city killed eight soldiers, leaving 13 others injured.