The train, on a trial run, arrived at Banihal from Qazigund in Anantnag district of Kashmir to a thunderous applause of hundreds of townsfolk. The trial run was originally scheduled for Thursday but had to be postponed following protests by people from villages along the Qazigund-Banihal railway line, who were demanding a one-minute halt station for the train at Hillad. The protesters tried to block the track again on Friday but were persuaded by the administration to allow the train to pass.
Services between Banihal and the valley will start in February or March next year while the entire railway project connecting Kashmir with the rest of India will be completed by 2017, said A P Mishra of the Railway Board.
This is the first time a train has crossed the mighty Pir Panjal mountain range. The highlight of the Qazigund-Banihal line is the 11.21 km tunnel, the longest railway tunnel in India and the second largest in Asia, which has reduced the distance between the two towns by half — from 35 km to 17.5 km. The tunnel is 8.40 metres wide and 7.39 metres high.
The tunnel is vital to the project of connecting Kashmir to Udhampur in Jammu, and thus to the country’s railway network.