11 Oct 2008

Separatists can't stop Kashmir train service

8:28 pm on 11 October 2008

The first train service for the Indian part of Kashmir hit the tracks on Saturday - the fruit of an eight-year project that had to overcome the twin challenges of tough terrain and separatist violence.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged off the inaugural train which carries a heavy weight of local expectation, built up by promises the new line will help to transform the volatile Kashmir Valley.

"Our intention is that the future of Kashmir should be socially, economically and politically bright," Mr Singh said.

The 117km link will connect the town of Baramulla in the north with Qazigund in the south and, eventually, should be integrated into India's massive national rail network.

For the moment, only a 66km stretch is ready to be used.

The 20 billion rupee rail project was started in 2000 and involved thousands of engineers and labourers who had to contend with tough Himalayan weather - especially in winter - and inhospitable terrain.

They also had to work under tight security, given the near-constant threat of possible attack by Muslim militants who have been waging an armed struggle against Indian rule for almost two decades.

Work was halted temporarily after an Indian railways engineer and his brother were killed by suspected militants in June 2004.

In April 2007, a policeman was killed in an attack on a group of engineers inspecting the project.