Disappointed over the inordinate delay in linking the Kashmir Valley with Jammu and the rest of the country through a railway line, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has set a deadline of 15 August 2022 for completion of the most challenging Reasi-Banihal phase of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla track.
On the third day of his maiden visit to Jammu after taking over as LG of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Sinha asserted at a high level meeting on Saturday that on the Independence Day of the year 2022, the train should be chugging between Baramulla in northern India to Kanyakumari in the south. He was taking the first review of the 272-km Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Railway Line, being built at a cost of Rs 27,949 crore.
The meeting was attended by Chairman Railways Board, Vinod Kumar Yadav, Advisor to LG, KK Sharma, Chief Secretary, BVR Subrahmanyam, Divisional Commissioner of Jammu and senior officials of the Indian Railways, Ircon International Limited and the Konkan Railways Corporation Limited.
According to well-placed sources, Sinha has been upset over the fact that even on the 74th Independence Day on 15 August last week, the 260-km long Jammu-Srinagar highway—only lifeline to Kashmir—was closed for traffic due to massive landslides in Ramban area and there was no functional and dependable surface communication link between New Delhi and Srinagar. He is understood to have issued instructions to speed up work on the ambitious four-lane project on National Highway 44, particularly on the problematic Ramban-Banihal patch.
Commissioner-Secretary, Industries and Director Geology and Mining, in coordination with the Deputy Commissioner of Ramban, have been directed to immediately remove all hassles so as to ensure transportation of mineral material on the highway as well as the railway line sites.
The LG was informed that the 161 km length of the railway project had been commissioned. He directed the Railway authorities to complete the remaining part of the project from Katra to Banihal positively in the next two years. He assured full support to the executing agencies for timely completion of the project so that a train service between Baramulla and Kanyakumari through New Delhi would be inaugurated on 15 August 2022.
The world’s highest railway bridge with a height of 359 metres is coming up on the river Chenab under this project of the Indian Railways. Besides, India’s first cable stayed railway bridge on Anji Nallah in Reasi is also coming up along the same link.
Currently train services are operating between Baramulla in Kashmir and Banihal, the first station on entering the Jammu province. However, due to the coronavirus lockdown, these services have remained suspended since April 2020.
Sinha directed the Railway authorities to expand the rail link towards unconnected areas of Rajouri-Poonch in Jammu and Baramulla-Kupwara in the Kashmir province. The Railways officers informed that preliminary survey for 223 km long Jammu-Poonch rail link, at an estimated cost of Rs 22,768 crore, had been completed and submitted in 2017. They said that survey had also been completed and submitted for the 39 km long Baramulla-Kupwara rail link, which requires estimated expenditure of Rs 3,843 crore, in July 2020.
Sinha asked the Railways to prepare the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of both the proposed projects so that the matter could be taken up with the Union Ministry of Finance for sanctioning of these projects.
Sinha asked the Railways to operate Vista Dome coaches in Kashmir to attract tourists and offer them a better view of the scenic Kashmir valley, once the Covid situation stabilised. The Railways agreed to run local train service between Kathua and Udhampur to benefit local commuters after reviewing the situation created by the pandemic.
The officers revealed in the meeting that on persuasion of the UT government, the Railways had agreed to construct a rail over-bridge at its own cost near Madhopur to decongest traffic between Pathankot and Lakhanpur, bordering Punjab and the J&K UT. Sinha further asked the Railways and the Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (JKSRTC) to introduce a single-ticket travel facility to provide travellers with the opportunity of traveling from Kashmir to Kanyakumari via train and bus. It was decided that the service would be started after restoration of trade and tourism activity and expiration of the pandemic..