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The Northern Railway's train service on the Banihal to Qazigund became operational last month. The latest 17·7 km section was built at a cost of Rs 16·9bn, including Rs 13bn for the 11·2 km PirPanjal tunnel, the longest in the Indian Railways network. This connects the Jammu region to the 119 km Kashmir Valley line between Qazigund, Srinagar and Baramula, which was completed ahead of the more difficult mountain section and opened as an isolated route in stages during 2008-09.

The Pir Panjal tunnel offers a year-round all-weather alternative to the 35 km road, which is impassable in heavy snow. Built by Ircon International, Hindustan Construction Corp and Geo Consultants, it has five groups of five roof-mounted ventilation fans, and safety systems including CCTV cameras every 62·5 m, fire detection and hydrants every 125 m, emergency telephones every 250 m, alarms every 250 m, air quality monitoring every 500 m, escape route signs every 50 m, emergency lighting and a public address system. There is a 3·0 m wide road for rescue and maintenance, along with a 772 m escape tunnel.

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