The Railway Board has allotted a eight coach- Vande Bharat rake to operate in Jammu and Kashmir along the under-construction Udhampur- Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL).
The allocation suggests that the Central government might declare the opening of the USBRL rail link, linking the Kashmir Valley to the rest of the country through a broad-gauge railway line, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
Last week, the Northern Railways conducted a successful trial run of an electric train on the 16-km Banihal-Khari segment, which is part of the 111-km-long final phase of the USBRL project, connecting Banihal to Katra.
The 272-km-long rail link project which tackles the demanding Himalayan terrain, has been divided into four segments, namely, Udhampur-Katra, Katra-Banihal, Banihal-Qazigund, and Qazigund-Baramulla.
The first leg, covering a distance of 25 kilometres from Udhampur to Katra, was successfully completed and commissioned in July 2014. Leg-3, extending 18 kilometres from Banihal to Qazigund involving Pir Panjal Tunnel, was completed and opened to traffic in June 2013.
The last leg (Leg-4) spanning a formidable 118 kilometres from Qazigund to Baramulla, was completed in three phases, with the last phase commissioned in October 2009.
Work on the intervening 111-kilometre stretch from Katra to Banihal as part of Leg 2 is currently in progress. This section is the most challenging portion for construction due to its geology and extensive riverine system with deep gorges.
With the Banihal-Khari section getting ready for operation, it is expected that the Katra-Banihal line will be operationalised by January 2024.
“The entire line has been electrified and the last leg of work along some tunnels is yet to be completed. But there is an intense push to inaugurate the link,” said a railway official.
It was in March 2023, when Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had stated that Vande Bharat and Vande Bharat metro train will be operated between Jammu and Srinagar once the project becomes fully operational.
“The plan is to run Vande Bharat trains along the stretch and also Vande Metro trains between Jammu and Srinagar, which will reduce the travelling time between the two towns to 3.5 hours,” Mr. Vaishnaw said.