Valley Must Wait To Be On Railway Map
27 March 2007
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Though work on the first 40-km stretch of the 120-kilometre Qazigund- Baramulla railway track has been completed, it will be sometime before a train starts plying on this track. The first train was scheduled to ply in the beginning of this month. The 20-km stretch on either sides of Srinagar (Pulwama on one side and Budgam on the other) has been completed by IRCON. However, the decision to run a train on this track is still pending. With trains plying on the first 40-km stretch, the travel time is expected to get cut by a third, which otherwise takes 30 minutes to cover. However, the Railways is in a fix whether to go ahead with the proposed Phase I of the plan or to concentrate on the bigger stretch from Anantnag to Magham (which is about 75-km long) instead, which will take another eight months to complete. But the major hurdle, according to sources, is that the state government is not ready with supporting infrastructure, like network of roads and other facilities connecting the railway track to its hinterland. According to sources, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had met railway officials and asked them to postpone the date of initiating the first phase. 'The state government had proposed that instead of starting train services on the first phase alone, the Anantnag- Magham stretch on the 120-km Qazigund-Baramulla should be started along with this. The meeting took place in October 2006 and has been followed up,' said an official who did not want to be named. Giving reasons as to why the construction work on this particular stretch was delayed, the official said: 'The delay is because no roads have been built to connect it to the road network in the Valley. How will the passengers reach these areas?' he added. The immediate reason behind the delay, however, is the 200-metre Panthihal stretch, (about 125 kilometres from Srinagar on the Jammu Srinagar highway). The shooting stones on the perpetually-damaged road hinders heavy vehicular movement. The highway has remained closed for more than 30 days since January 1 this year. As a result, only one of the five coaches has reached Srinagar, the rest of the four stopped as the highway is not yet fit for heavy traffic. 'The coaches have been stopped near Udhampur as -'over dimension cargo-' is not allowed in this area. The state government-'s priority is obviously the trucks loaded with basic amenities and passenger trucks,' the official added. The traffic department officials have, however, promised to move the coaches as early as possible. Meanwhile, a mock run with the single coach was conducted last week. The Railways is also waiting for a safety clearance from the Defence Ministry which is expected to take place in the first week of April. ON THE PROJECT The 120-km Qazigund-Baramulla rail line is a Rs 3,000-crore project, a part of the 340-km-long railway line which will join the Kashmir Valley to the Indian Railways Network. The total cost of the project is Rs 10,000-crore. Out of this, IRCON has been working on a 167-km line, divided into two parts - the 120-km Qazigund-Baramulla stretch and the 47-km Loale-Qazigund stretch. While the stretch from Qazigund to Baramulla passes through a fairly level terrain, the construction of the Loale-Qazigund section is the most challenging as it passes through thick forests, deep gorges and numerous rivers.