Train to Kashmir: Status - late by 20 years

The rail connectivity to Kashmir has witnessed a delay of over 20 years and cost escalation of Rs 25,449 crore in the last 241 months, a central government report has revealed.

A report of projects costing over Rs 1000 crore prepared by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation has stated in its latest flash report ending December 2020 that the Udhampur-Banihal Rail link project is late by over 20 years.

As per the report, date of approval of the project was March 1995 with an estimated cost of Rs 2500 crore. The revised cost now is Rs 27949 crore implying a cost overrun of Rs 25,449 crore and a time overrun of 241 months.

Now as per the report the anticipated date of commissioning has been scheduled as December 2022.

Though Jammu division is connected with the rail network, the missing link between Udhampur to Banihal section has kept Kashmir disconnected from the railway network spanning across India. As a result, Kashmir is heavily dependent on the treacherous Srinagar Jammu Highway as it remains a lone surface link during winter months.

“Udhampur to Baramulla section i.e USBRL Project 272 km is being executed as a National project. Salient features of USBRL Project, involves 38 Tunnels, combined length of 119Km. The longest Tunnel length is 11.2015Km. There are 927 Bridges, combined length of 13 Km. These bridges includes the iconic Chenab Bridge, Overall length 1315 m, arch span of 467 m and height of 359 m above river bed, which will be the highest railway bridge in the world. Indian railways first cable stayed bridge; overall length of 450 m is also being constructed on Anji Khad,” reads a MOSPI flash report.

“Out of 272 km length from Udhampur to Baramulla, 161 kms have been completed and commissioned 59 percent. Qazigund to Baramulla section 118 Km commissioned in phases from 2008 to 2009. Qazigund to Banihal section 18 Km commissioned in June 2013. Udhampur to Katra section 25 km commissioned in July 2014.”

“Present Status – the balance length of 111 km from Katra to Banihal is in progress. This section predominantly involves tunneling 97 km in addition to construction of Mega Bridges on Chenab river and Anji Khad, with a total 37 number of Bridges. At present 79.7 km out of 97 km Tunnelling and 20 bridges out of 37 have been completed. In addition, a 205 Km access road has been constructed. Construction of wide network of access roads has provided connectivity to far flung and inaccessible remote areas, leading to socio economic development, direct employment to 768 locals, i.e. land losers and indirect employment to 3287 locals. The overall progress of Katra to Banihal section is 74 percent approx.”

The then Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government had in 2002 declared Jammu-Srinagar rail link as national project and fixed August 15, 2007 as deadline for its completion. However, since then several deadlines were set for completion of the project but all of them were missed. About two-thirds of the 326 km Jammu-Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link is ready. The portion that needs to be completed is a 111 km stretch between Katra, the Hindu pilgrimage town near Jammu, and Banihal on the slopes of Kashmir valley. Banihal is connected to Baramulla via Srinagar, while Jammu is linked to Katra via Udhampur.