Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Saturday said that the railway line connecting Kashmir Valley with the rest of the country will be completed this year. He further said that the special ‘Vande Bharat' trains will chug in the Union Territory next year.
Addressing a press conference at the Srinagar railway station in the Nowgam area here, he said the Udhampur-Banihal track, connecting Jammu with Srinagar, will be completed by December this year, or early next year. “There is a good progress on the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail line. The work on the Chenab and Anji bridges, and major tunnels is also going and there is a good progress. By the grace of God, the train will chug on this route in December this year or January-February next year,” Vaishnaw said.
He said a specially designed ‘Vande Bharat' train is being developed for this line. “Everything like temperature, snow, has been kept in mind while manufacturing this special train. Once the railway line is opened, you will have the ‘Vande Bharat' train in the middle of 2024,” he said. Asked about the delay in completing the project, the Union minister said there was less funding before Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over in 2014. “The cost of the project is Rs 35,000 crore. They used to get only Rs 700-800 crores per year. So, after Modi came to power, he doubled it. Then tripled it and now has increased the funding six times of what it was,” Vaishnaw said.
He said this year, Rs 6,000 crore has been allotted for the railway project in J-K in the budget. Vaishnaw said there were technical reasons for the delay as well. “The Himalayas are the young mountains which means they are soft and tunnelling work is very difficult,” he said. However, all big challenges have now been completed and all the difficult works have been done, he added. Describing the Chenab railway bridge as an engineering marvel, the minister said it is one of the highest bridges in the world and the highest railway bridge in the country.
“It is higher than the Eiffel Tower…All the tests have been done and all have been successful. High-velocity winds, extreme temperature, earthquake-prone area, hydrological impact -- everything has been studied in detail. Now, the bridge is ready for operation, ready for commissioning. The track laying work is on. This is the greatest thing for J-K, he said. The Union railway minister said the Anji bridge will be also completed by August this year and after fine-tuning works, it will be available for commissioning by September this year.
He said 41 segments out of the 47 have already been launched, adding the whole project is very complex. Crediting Modi for transforming the railways across the country, Vaishnaw said this year, the Railways is laying a track of 13 kilometres per day, which is a record. “This speed of work has been witnessed for the first time after independence under the able leadership of Modi,” he said. He said electric train will be inaugurated in J-K very soon as the electrification work has been completed.
The minister said demands have been received for connecting three areas -- Sopore-Kupwara, Awantipora-Shopian, and Bijbehara-Pahalgam -- with the railway line, and the Railways will discuss it. “We will discuss this with J-K LG, and then with Union Home minister (Amit Shah) and Prime Minister (Narendra Modi),” he added. He said Modi wants to give the country’s and the world’s best facilities and infrastructure to J-K. “We are working in that direction.”
“He (Modi) is strongly determined to increase and improve the railway network in J-K,” Vaishnaw said. The minister also said the railways has started a parcel booking facility in Srinagar, along with the Department of Posts, to send products by booking parcels from here to different parts of the country. “We will take it up on a large scale in the days to come, especially when the railway line is completed,” he said. Vaishnaw said about 750 ‘one station-one product’ stalls have been put up at railway stations across the country.
“These stalls have unique products of the area which can be sent to every corner of the country,” he added. There are 146 Gati-Shakti cargo terminals across the country for handling rail cargo and I have directed the officials to develop three to four on the Banihal-Baramulla line, the minister said. Vaishnaw, who is also the minister of Communications and Electronics and Information Technology, said every village and city in J and K will have a telecom facility. J&K, and Ladakh will have seamless connectivity. About 500 new mobile towers have been sanctioned for Ladakh and soon they will have good 4G/5G connectivity, he added.
(With inputs from PTI)
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