Banihal, June 30: It was a busy day for the railway employees here at Banihal station as thousands of people from various parts of Kashmir region visited this highway township using the recently inaugurated rail service.
The huge rush of visitors, most of whom wanted to have a glimpse of more than 11 kilometer long Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel, led to the chaos even forcing the railway police to use mild force to remove the passengers from the roof of the rail at Kakapora junction.
Reports revealed that being Sunday thousands of people took a ride on the newly inaugurated rail from Qazigund and its adjoining areas to Banihal. “The rush was so heavy that dozens of people were seen traveling on the roof the rail coaches”, Arshad Hussain, a passenger told RailNews.
He said that most of the passengers wanted to have a glimpse of the largest railway tunnel in India and experience of the joy of rail journey.
The 11-km railway tunnel across the Pir Panjal mountain range, inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday last, is not only the longest such in India but an engineering marvel and a “dream come true” for the people of JK.
A three-metre-wide road has also been provided inside the tunnel for maintenance and relief and rescue operations in the event of any eventuality.
Built at a cost of Rs.1,300 crores ($213 million), the tunnel has reduced the surface distance between the Qazigund town in the Valley and Banihal town in the Jammu region by 18 km, besides providing an all-weather surface link between the two regions.
“This is a new experience for us. We wanted to see how it feels”, Rahim, a resident of Qazigund, who traveled on the train today said.
The over 300-km-long Srinagar-Jammu highway, till today the only surface link between the landlocked Valley and the rest of the country, would often remain closed for days without end in the winter months due to heavy snowfall on the Banihal sector of the highway.
Muhammad Sultan, 80, of Qazigund whose wrinkled face bears testimony to his hard life, said: “The first time I heard that there is a possibility of a train coming to our town was back in 1983. I thought, if the tracks could be extended from Jammu to Udhampur, why not up to Banihal,” Sultan told RailNews.
The octogenarian said he had lost hope of ever stepping on a train, as the project was getting delayed. “At my age, hopes are not fulfilled very often. But, I kept hoping that one day I will board a train here,” he said.It was not the first travel to Kashmir for Sultan, but as he puts it, “this is royal-class“.
“Whenever we would step out of Banihal, we had to look skyward for impending weather changes. While winters are harsh due to snowfall, summers can get tricky owing to landslides triggered by rains. One was sure of leaving the town but not about the date of return,” he said.
Sultan is happy that travel to Kashmir will be a lot safer now than the treacherous bus journey.