SRINAGAR: Amid a complete shutdown called by separatists, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday flagged off the first ever train in the Kashmir Valley at the Nowgam station on the outskirts of Srinagar.
In the first phase, it will cover 66 km from Anantnag in the south to Rajvansher in central Budgam district. The train is part of a Rs. 11,200-crore project, which will connect Kashmir with the rest of the country.
The flower-decked train carrying schoolchildren initially covered 1 km and returned to the station. United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, Union Ministers Saifuddin Soz and R. Velu and Governor N.N. Vohra were present. Mr. Yadav said it was a historic day for Kashmir. The train would usher in a new era of development in the State. “For development, infrastructure is important and with the commissioning of this train, people will feel relief.”
Mr. Prasad said the work on the remainder of the project would be speeded up. Railway Ministry sources said the Qazigund-Baramulla rail link would be completed by the year-end.
Railway officials said the fare for travel from Rajvansher to Anantnag was Rs. 15. The regular service would begin on Sunday.
The eight-coach DEMU would run twice a day on either side. Each coach would carry 90 passengers. Like the state-of-the art Delhi Metro, a public information system with display and automatic announcement was provided in the coaches.
Extra measures were being taken to ensure security of the train. Apart from frisking arrangements, the Railway Protection Force had been deployed at all new-look stations. The J&K police would assist the RPF in ensuring security. The Qazigund-Baramulla rail link is the first ever train project inside Kashmir, for which the foundation stone was laid by the then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral in 1998. With a liberal funding of Rs. 2,400 crore out of the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan for Jammu and Kashmir, work was taken up at high speed. But out of 15 stations, six are yet to be completed to connect Qazigund town in south Kashmir with Baramulla in the north.
The Udhampur-Katra section involves 10.98 km of tunnelling, construction of nine major and nine minor bridges and 10 overbridges. The approximate cost of this section is Rs. 680 crore. The 148-km Katra-Qazigund section is the toughest stretch, full of tunnels and bridges.
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