The rail link between Kashmir valley and the rest of the country will be completed by December 2012 once India’s longest tunnel at 11 km — connecting Qazigund with Banihal — is constructed within a year. The tunnel, one of the world’s largest and deepest, will pierce through the Pir Panjal range below snowline, which stands like a wall between the Valley and Jammu. The engineering marvel, named T80, is strategically important for the country since the only road link via the Jawahar Tunnel, which connects both the regions in the border state, is often blocked due to heavy snowfall. Hitesh Khanna, director (works) of IRCON, which is executing the project, said of the 11-km stretch, work has been completed in 10.40km. The distance between Banihal and Qazigund will be reduced to only 16km once the tunnel becomes operational, said R V Anand of IRCON. Railways is also building an eight-feet wide service road along the T80 for any exigency. The Banihal-Qazigund project is part of the Katra-Qazigund (129 km) venture, passing through hostile terrain of young Himalayas that are routinely posing geological surprises to the engineers. The inhospitable terrain has forced IRCON to construct 67.5km of access road to reach the project site, which has also helped in providing connectivity to around 35 villages. Railways is using state-ofthe-art Austrian tunnelling method to construct T80 that involves integration of surrounding soil formations into a ring-like support structure. In 2002, then NDA government had announced a 345-km Jammu-Udhampur-Katra-Qazigund-Baramulla railway line, the biggest mountain rail project since the Independence. The 53-km Jammu-Udhampur section was opened to the public in 2005, and the 119-km Qazigund-Baramulla route has been operational since 2009. At present, the 6.5km Karbude tunnel of the Konkan Railway is the longest tunnel in India.