Kashmir rail link to Jammu opened by Manmohan Singh

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Singh (right) and Mrs Gandhi flagged off the new train service

The first train connecting the Kashmir valley with the southern Jammu region has begun its journey in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The newly-built 18km (11-mile) stretch connects Banihal in Jammu with Qazigund in the valley.

However, Banihal is yet to be connected to India's huge railway network.

Officials say that is likely to happen in 2017 when the Banihal station will be linked with Udhampur, 121km (75 miles) away.

The ambitious train project aims to link the region with India's vast railway network, easing travel between Srinagar and the rest of the country.

It also aims to provide an all-weather surface link between Srinagar and Jammu region where the present road link frequently gets cut in bad weather.

The new stretch is added to the 118km (73-mile) train line that already runs through the valley, connecting Baramullah in the north with Qazigund in the south.

Multi-million dollar tunnel

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The train link will eventually connect all of Jammu and Kashmir with India's vast rail network

The train was flagged off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday.

For the launch, the station at Banihal was decorated with flowers and garlands, and an eight-coach train, carrying schoolchildren and officials, travelled to Qazigund in 25 minutes.

The train passes through an 11km multi-million dollar tunnel which cuts through the Pir Panjal mountain range.

On Tuesday, PM Singh and Mrs Gandhi laid the foundation of a power project in Kishtwar.

Separatists observed a two-day strike to coincide with their visit, saying the Kashmir dispute could not be resolved by economic grants and infrastructure projects.

On the eve of the prime minister's two-day visit to the disputed territory, militants killed eight soldiers in the deadliest such attack there in five years.

Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has seen an armed insurgency against Indian rule since 1989.

In recent years violence has abated from its peak in the 1990s, but the causes of the insurgency are still far from resolved.

After a lull in violence for a few years, militant activity has risen in recent weeks, with busy marketplaces often targeted.

Two policemen were shot and killed by militants in Srinagar over the weekend.

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