SRINAGAR: The Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project, intended to connect Kashmir with the rest of India through a robust railway network, faces a delay, pushing its inauguration to July due to infrastructural hurdles.

The Reasi Railway Bridge is a crucial link between Banihal and Katra. It is one of the world’s highest bridges railway, much higher that the Eiffel Tower Photograph: Asrar Sultanpuri

The USBRL project, spanning 272 kilometres, initially aimed for a significant launch, possibly introducing the Vande Bharat Express from Udhampur to Baramulla via the Chenab Bridge, the tallest rail bridge globally at a height of 359 meters and spanning 1,315 meters.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently inaugurated an electrified railway line between Baramulla and Sangaldan, infrastructural obstacles continue to impede the full realisation of the USBRL project.

Initially aiming for a grand launch, with hopes of potentially introducing the Vande Bharat Express traversing from Udhampur to Baramulla via the iconic Chenab Bridge, the Indian Railways now faces a setback in its plans. The network, spanning 272 kilometres was slated for inauguration by February. However, the ongoing tunnelling work around the Chenab Bridge, has contributed to the delay.

“While the Chenab Bridge, which stands at a height of 359 metres, and taller than the height of Eiffel Tower is ready, the tunnelling work in tunnels around the bridge is still under progress. The entire route is now expected to be made operational in July later this year. The February deadline has been further pushed by a few more months,” a senior Railways official told The Hindu.

Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw earlier highlighted in the Lok Sabha the challenging terrain traversing the youthful Himalayas, replete with geological intricacies and numerous hurdles.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated several railway projects in Jammu and Kashmir, including the newly constructed 48 km railway line between Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangaldan and the electrified Baramulla-Srinagar-Banihal-Sangaldan section spanning 185.66 km. Additionally, the Prime Minister initiated the first electric train service in the Kashmir valley and inaugurated the train service between Sangaldan and Baramulla stations. The route between Sangaldan and the inception of the Chenab Bridge, linking Jammu with Kashmir, encompasses no less than eight tunnels.

The partial commissioning of the USBRL, notably the Banihal-Khari-Sumber-Sangaldan section, assumes significance as it incorporates the utilisation of Ballast Less Track (BLT) throughout, promising an enhanced travel experience for passengers. A spokesperson for the Railways, as per a report in The Hindu emphasised, “Furthermore, India’s longest transportation tunnel, T-50 (12.77 km), is situated within the Khari-Sumber stretch.”

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