Banihal (J&K), Dec 28: Northern Railways today made history as the first train chugged through India's longest railway tunnel through the Pir Panjal mountain range, connecting Kashmir Valley to Banihal town on Srinagar-Jammu National highway.
The train on a trial run, arrived at Banihal station from Qazigund in Anantnag district of Kashmir, was witnessed by hundreds of local residents of this highway town.
The train chugged in at the station amidst thunderous applause from the people, who had assembled here to witness the historic achievement of Indian railways.
The trial run was scheduled to be conducted yesterday but had to be postponed following protests by residents of villages falling along Qazigund-Banihal railway link, who were demanding a one-minute halt station for the train at Hillad village.
The protesters, backed by a local politician, tried to block the track today again but were persuaded by the civil administration officials to allow the train to pass.
A P Mishra, member of the Railway Board, said the train services between Banihal and Kashmir Valley will start in February or March next year while the entire railway project connecting the Valley with the rest of the country will be completed by 2017.
While the Baramulla-Srinagar-Qazigund link is functional for the past four years, this was the first time that a train has crossed the mighty Pir Panjal Mountain range.
The highlight of the Qazigund-Banihal link is the 11.21 km tunnel - the longest railway tunnel in India, which has reduced the distance between the two towns by half.
The tunnel, which was constructed by Hindustan Construction Corporation (HCC), will reduce the travel distance between Qazigund and Banihal from 35 kilometres (by road) to just 17.5 kilometres (by train).
The Pir Panjal tunnel, which is the second longest in Asia, is a vital link in the Railway dream project of connecting Kashmir to Udhampur in Jammu region.
The tunnel is 8.40 metres wide with a height of 7.39 metres. There is a provision of a three metre wide road along the length of the tunnel for the purpose of maintenance and emergency relief.
The rail link will provide an alternative link between Kashmir and rest of the country as Srinagar-Jammu National Highway gets blocked regularly due to heavy snowfall during winter months.