Historic, will transform our lives: Residents on Banihal rail link to be opened by PM on Tuesday

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Banihal/Jammu, Feb 18 (PTI) Thousands of families in remote pockets of Jammu and Kashmir's Ramban district are eagerly waiting for the inauguration of train services on the Banihal-Sangaldan section by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, and say it will fulfil their decades-old dream and completely transform their lives.

The 48.1-km section, a part of the ambitious Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link project, will provide an all-weather dependable transport facility to the people of the region.

According to Northern Railway officials, the prime minister will virtually dedicate to the nation the Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangaldan railway line and flag off the first electric train from Baramulla to Sangaldan during his visit to Jammu on February 20.

Modi is also scheduled to inaugurate and lay the foundation of 209 projects worth Rs 3,161 crore from the Maulana Azad Stadium and address a public rally.

The start of the rail service is "a historic occasion for us and is going to transform our lives completely," Choudhary Mohammad Ashraf, former sarpanch of Sumber, told PTI.

"We will have a dependable transport facility at a minimum cost. It will not only provide us a major relief but will also open new vistas, especially for our younger generations," he said.

He said the enthusiasm among men, women and children can be gauged by their turnout in huge numbers on both sides of the railway track and the hill tops to witness the first train chugging along the track during the inspection by the Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS) on Friday.

Qamar Din of the same village said the joy of having a train service after seven decades of the country's independence is very difficult to describe.

"Our village is located 40 km from Ramban district headquarters and considered as backward in every sphere, be it health, education or road network. We have to spend a lot of money to take a patient to hospital while our students lack basic facilities," he said, citing the very low pass percentage of students of the government high school in the class 10 board exam.

With the start of the train service and a station in the village, he said, they can travel easily to outside their village, including Banihal and Srinagar, for educational and healthcare purposes and return on the same day.

Ramban Deputy Commissioner Baseer-ul-Haq Chaudhary said, "This railway line brings immense joy to not only the people of Ramban but to the entire Chenab Valley, fulfilling a decades-old dream." District Development Council (DDC) chairperson and National Conference leader Shamshad Shan termed the proposed inauguration of the railway line a "historic moment" and said the start of the service will transform the lives of the people, especially the downtrodden sections of society.

She said the round-the-year mobility will facilitate easy access to markets, promote business and help employment generation.

DDC member Khari Fayaz Naik, who is associated with the Democratic Progressive Azad Party led by former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, said it is a welcome development for the remote area.

He also highlighted the demand of the people for a flyover at the Khari railway station and improvement of the road, which is not in a good condition.

Dozens of villages in Banihal, Ramban, Khari, Gool, Mahore, Sangaldan, Pogal Paristan (Ukhral) and Ramsoo tehsils will be directly benefited by the start of the train service.

"The train will also boost the government's efforts to bring virgin valleys like Mohu Mangant and Pogal Paristan into the tourism map. The launch of the train service is expected to improve the footfall of visitors in the breathtaking spots,” Tanvir Bin Ahad, a tourist guide, said.

He said the country's longest transportation tunnel, T-50, having a length of 12.77 km also falls between Khari and Sumber railway stations, which will attract visitors as well.

Railway officials said the Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangaldan section features a total of 16 bridges -- 11 major and four minor bridges and one road over bridge.

More than 90 per cent of this section runs through tunnels, with a total of 11 tunnels covering 43.37 km, including the country's longest transportation tunnel, T-50, they said.

They said the work on the remaining Katra-Sangaldan section of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project is going at a high pace, and it is hoped that Kashmir will be connected with the rest of the country by train within the next few months.

Out of the total 272 km USBRL project, 161 km was commissioned in phases.

The first phase 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 work on the 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.

The officials said the railways will further stimulate infrastructure development in the area, improving living standards and quality of life of the local population. PTI COR/TAS SKL SMN

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