Longest railway tunnel will enable access to the Valley throughout the year
This winter onwards nothing can stop you from enjoying the snow in Srinagar. Inclement weather — be it snow, rain or blizzard — will neither stop you from reaching the Valley nor will they make your return plan go astray.
Plan your travel programme to the last detail and the railways will help you stick to it. That is what they are promising August onwards after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi script a golden chapter on June 26 by dedicating to the nation a railway tunnel that will make the Valley accessible all through the year.
The inauguration of the longest rail tunnel will help the J&K railway line step out of the confines of the Valley and cross over to the other side of the Pir Panjal Ranges of the Himalayas and reach the newly established Banihal station, the last station in Jammu. At present, train services are available only between Baramulla and Qazigund in Kashmir.
Though the construction of the Jammu-Udhampur-Banihal-Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla section in its entirety is still three years away, the partial opening itself, linking the Valley with the Jammu region, is of crucial importance.
The Udhampur-Banihal section is still under construction with the challenge of erecting one of the tallest bridges on the Chenab that is expected to be completed by December 2017.
You will still not have to wait for that to fructify to reach the Valley as the railways intends to put in place a single ticket passage to Srinagar. A multi-modal travel package will be made available. In cooperation with the State government a common rail-road ticket will be made available.
It will be a train journey up to Udhampur and a luxury bus will curve through the mountains to Banihal. There after, the exhilarating and unique journey beckons you.
The coaches will give you the pleasure of first passing through the 11.215-km-long Pir Panjal tunnel, which is also the second longest transportation tunnel in Asia, constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 1172 crore over a period of seven years. The 17.729-km-long Banihal-Qazigund section, which includes the tunnel, entails a cost of Rs. 1691 crore.
It will be a matter of minutes that you will whiz through the illuminated tunnel at a speed of 100 km per hour. And as you emerge, it will be like skiing through the vast expanse of snow on both sides of the track right up to Baramulla.
Since the tunnel is located below the Jawahar road tunnel, the problem of snow is not insurmountable during winter. The Jawahar tunnel remains closed for several days together, cutting the Valley off from the rest of the country. The Army helps in the clearance of the road.
That won’t be the case anymore this winter onwards. Officials say the snow that falls at the two ends of the tunnel could be cleared easily providing for unhindered movement of trains. The strategic importance of the tunnel need hardly be stressed. The tunnel has a three-metre-wide road as well for emergency purposes.