USBRL should be the priority
The Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Monday said that Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project will be completed very soon to transform this ‘dream of nation’ into reality. Undoubtedly this railway project is a dream project particularly for the people of Kashmir Valley as they have very fragile road connectivity with Jammu and rest of the country. The Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is a fair-weather road and its frequent closures due to weather conditions have been impacting the overall economy of the Valley besides disturbing day-to-day affairs. As Kashmir is a consumer society therefore everything from fuel to eatables come from other parts of the country and the frequent closures of the highway impact the supply chain. Equally, the closures impact ferrying of fruits from Kashmir to rest of the country thus impacting Kashmir’s economy. In this backdrop, the USBRL is something that will revolutionize the economy here and help people to gell with the national mainstream.
That said, the project has missed several deadlines and that is what makes people skeptical about the official claims. The work on the Rs 21,653 crore Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project, which is the most challenging railway infrastructure project being undertaken post-independence, was started in 1997 and has missed several deadlines amid huge cost escalations. Out of the total 272 km USBRL project, the 161 km was commissioned in phases with the first phase of the 118-km Qazigund-Baramulla section commissioned in October 2009, followed by 18-km Banihal-Qazigund in June 2013 and 25-km Udhampur-Katra in July 2014. The under-construction 111-km Katra-Banihal section has 37 bridges (26 major and 11 minor), 35 tunnels with a length of 164 km (main 27 with 97.64 km and eight escape tunnels with 66.40 km), a railway official said. This project is the longest railway tunnel having an overall length of 12.75 km, the highest railway bridge in the world which is higher than the iconic Eiffel tower of Paris. It is the first cable-stayed bridge which when completed, according to railway officials, would be an engineering marvel of the 21st century.
With the Minister asserting that the project will be completed very soon, it is hoped that no more deadlines are missed and the work is finished within the time frame thus avoiding further cost escalations. The surface communication is vital for the progress of any place, Kashmir being no exception. As already mentioned, the existing Jammu-Srinagar Highway is too fragile to keep the promise of modern surface communication. During winters, it remains closed for days together thus hampering the supplies to the Valley resulting into black marketeering and inflation here The railway link would be a great boost to Kashmir’s economy and will improve the quality of life here The concerned authorities need to take the project on priority basis and complete it within given time frame.