Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chief Sonia Gandhi jointly inaugurated the Banihal-Qazigund rail link here on Wednesday.
The 11 km-long rail line was built at a cost of Rs 1,096 crore. Crucially, the rail connectivity will cut the road travel distance between the two towns by 18 km.
Addressing the gathering, the Prime Minister said the Centre had gifted an engineering marvel to Jammu and Kashmir.
Congratulating the people of the state and the railway personnel who worked on the project, Manmohan said the Railways had faced considerable difficulty on account of the challenges posed by the region’s topography.
The PM said the railway link will connect Kashmir with the rest of the country and will also generate employment to the people of the state. “This will link the Kashmir Valley to the progress (achieved) in the rest of India. We will link this to the rest of the rail network.”
Manmohan also urged the railway authorities to complete the remaining projects in the state in quick time.
“I urge the Railways to complete the work on the Chenab bridge as quickly as possible so that we have an all-weather link to Kashmir,” he said.
Later, the PM along with a group of school children went on a train journey through the 11-km long tunnel under the Pir Panjal mountain ranges.
And he interacted with the students,majority of whom were travelling onboard a train for the first time in their lives.
He asked one of the girl students seated next to him whether she had travelled by train earlier, to which she replied in the negative.
Besides Manmohan and Sonia, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah; state Governor N N Vohra; Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Union Railway Minister Mallikarjun Kharge were present on the occasion. The Prime Minister, after inaugurating the railway line, left for Udhampur.
Meanwhile, the Railways will start its regular service -- the Banihal to Baramulla train which will have a total of eight coaches -- on the newly-inaugurated stretch from Thursday.