Railway connectivity should be the priority

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Union Minister of State for Railways, Coal and Mines, Raosaheb Patil Danve, while reviewing the progress on 272 kms long Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Railway Line (USBRL) project has directed the concerned agencies to complete the project by 2023 asserting that there is no dearth of funds for the development and welfare of the people of the country.  He directed the administration and construction agencies to redouble their efforts to meet its timely completion and instructed the concerned authorities to adopt the permission procedure in due course of time for procurement of construction material so that early completion of this prestigious project is ensured. He has also enquired about causes of delay of project, and sought a detailed report on project’s cost escalation from Chief Engineers of all wings of the project. The officials said that the total length of USBRL is 272 KMs, of which 161 KM has already been commissioned, while as the work on the rest 111 Kms Katra-Banihal stretch is in progress and is expected to be completed by April 2023. The Katra- Banihal stretch comprises 27 numbers of main tunnels and 8 numbers of escape tunnels involves 97 Kms tunnelling work. The T-49 is the longest tunnel, 12.75 Kms situated between Sumber- Arpinchala in Sangaldan area of Ramban district.

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). 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 administration 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.

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