Indian railways to chug into Kashmir by 2017

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Come 2017 and the much-awaited rail link, connecting Jammu with rest of Kashmir, will become a reality. The people involved in the project say that the Indian Railways’ (IR) 273 km Udhampur-Katra-Quazigund-Baramulla project is well on track and should be open for public in next six years.

“The is only connecting railway route between Kashmir and rest of the India. This project will not only benefit tourists who come to Kashmir, but will also boost local economy by easy transportation of goods,” Chahatey Ram, chief administrative officer of Northern Railway, said.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved the project in three phases -- Udhampur-Katra (25 km), Katra-Quazigund (129 km) and Quazigund-Baramulla (119 km). The first phase Udhampur-Katra is being executed by northern railways, which has already spent over Rs 870 crore on it. Over 80 per cent of the project is complete and is expected to be operational by June next year. The second phase Katra-Quazigund is being developed by three agencies – northern railways (first 5 km), Konkan railways (67.50 km) and IRCON (56.50 km). This is considered to be the toughest section due to poor geology. This route alone is expected to incur a cost of over Rs 15,000 crore. The third phase -- Quazigund-Baramulla – has been taken up by IRCON, which is now open to public.

“The entire project is estimated to cost around Rs 19,500 crore. So far, around Rs 7,165 crore has been spent. We have also kept an outlay of Rs 1,100 crore for 2011-12. Though funding is not an issue, the problem is in estimating the cost. Since the terrain is so uncertain, it has always been difficult to estimate the cost in a particular stretch,” Ram said.

The geological difficulties have also delayed the project by almost 10 year. Earlier, the rail link was expected to be operational by 2007. “It is not easy to make tunnels or bridges in such area. We are constructing one of the world's largest and deepest tunnel of 11 km connecting Qazigund to Banihal, which we aim to complete by 2012,” HiteshKhanna, director works, IRCON, said.

It is not only the infrastructure challenges that the railways have to face in implementing this project. Running a train in Kashmir also poses big challenges for the security agencies. However, the security officials maintain that they would not have such issues as more security staff would be deployed around the area.

(The trip was sponsored Indian Railways)

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