An ear-splitting blast rips through the darkness, echoing many times over. And then a loud applause — Kashmir is eight kilometres closer to a rail connection with the rest of the country.
The 11-km tunnel will be the longest transport tunnel in the country and will link Banihal, 190 km from Jammu, with Qazigund. Eight kilometers of it are now ready and rest will be completed by 2010.
Named T-80 for now, the tunnel runs for 11 km into the Pir Panjal range of the inner Himalayas and is one of the last engineering hurdles the railways are up against in the tough terrain of the Valley.
“This tunnel is the toughest job we’re doing here,” said Rakesh Chopra, member-engineering, Railway Board.
The “day break” — the ceremonious razing of the last wall between two ends of a tunnel — came at around 3.45 pm. Two bulldozers from opposite came face to face, clearing debris on the way.
T-80 shoulders a heavy burden. The mountains on top are 1,100 meters high — tallest for any tunnel in the country. Built at Rs 647 crore, the tunnel will have a single track.
Moving at 50-80 kilometres per hour, a train will take 12-15 minutes to cross the tunnel.
A direct rail link with the rest of the country is expected to boost the economy of the turbulent Valley.