India is fast-tracking a project to connect Kashmir valley with the rest of the country by rail, which will enable trains to operate between New Delhi and Srinagar in 14 hours flat.

The railway line, which could become functional in four years, is seen as a big development push by the Narendra Modi government in the valley. Costing over Rs 10,000 crore, it will provide all-weather connectivity and be a cornerstone of the government’s outreach programme in Jammu & Kashmir. The project is being personally monitored by rail minister Suresh Prabhu.

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, for which the railway ministry has already allocated funds and formed a special monitoring team. Banihal is connected to Baramulla via Srinagar, while Jammu is linked to Katra via Udhampur.

The Katra-Banihal project is considered the toughest in the country’s engineering history and involves the construction of 27 bridges, including the tallest rail bridge in the world, and 37 tunnels, one of which is the longest in Asia at more than 12 km.

“It will not only make passenger travel more convenient, which will give a push to tourism in the valley, but will also make movement of freight to and from the valley a lot easier and cheaper, leading to the creation of more jobs in the strife-torn state,” a top government official said.

The official said the rail project will offer all-weather connectivity and is high among the priorities of the Central government.

“It’s a big part of their Kashmir outreach programme. The funds are being released timely so that there are no further delays. Construction on various stretches on the route is already on and several international consultants have been engaged,” the official said.

The terrain in the Himalayas, one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world, is tough as the soil changes every 15 km, the official said. Most of the 111 km Katra-Banihal route will consist of tunnels (95 km) and bridges (almost 10 km).

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