What Mamata Did Not Say: Line To Kashmir Valley May Be Delayed By 10 Years

3 July 2009
The Indian Express

New Delhi: In her budget speech, Mamata Banerjee today said that experts studying alignment issues on the mountainous Katra-Qazigund section in J&K had submitted their report, and because “safety of passengers” was her “foremost concern”, the decision on the project would have to be made “very carefully”. “I will review the matter soon and see how quickly this section of the national project can be taken up for completion,” the Railway Minister told the Lok Sabha. What she did not say is that India’s ambitious Train to Kashmir project now stares at an even longer delay that threatens to push back its date of completion by a full decade. The high-level expert committee formed by the ministry under the chairmanship of former Railway Board chairman M Ravindra to review the original and proposed new alignments for the line between Katra and Banihal on the Katra-Qazigund section is learnt to have recommended that the realignments suggested by Swiss Engineering Consultant Amberg should be accepted. The expert committee report is not yet public. But information available with The Indian Express says that Amberg has suggested realigning as much as 93 kilometres of the total 126-kilometre long Katra-Banihal section. Amberg, it is reliably learnt, has suggested realignments from Kilometre 30 to 38, 60 to 97 and 101 to 149. The expert committee has recommended that Amberg’s view should be accepted “even if it means elimination of two stations, Bhata and Kholi”. Significantly, Konkan Railways Corporation Limited (KRCL) and IRCON, the two Railway PSUs executing works on this section, had suggested a realignment of around 38.78 km. The expert panel has also stressed the desirability of constituting another committee comprising representatives of Northern Railway, Konkan Railways, IRCON and Geological Survey of India to “examine, refine and finalize the realignments suggested” so as to ensure that major faults are crossed at right angles or in the range of 70 to 110 degrees, and that the line at other places is kept as far away from geographical faultlines as possible. If the government takes the expert consultant’s advice, it may not be possible to save more than 10-15 km of the original alignment, a ministry source said. Adopting the new alignment will mean abandoning at least Rs 250 crore worth of works already executed on the section. Surprisingly, the Ravindra committee has expressed satisfaction with the stability of the slopes of the Chenab bridge, subject to further field investigations and studies. “Considering the importance of the structure, field investigations and studies need to be done before recommencement of work on the bridge,” the panel has said. Rail Bhavan had halted work on the bridge - at 359 m from the river bed, billed the highest in the world - last year. Sources said the ministry would want to establish the feasibility of constructing the Chenab bridge before going in for a re-alignment. “The studies for the Chenab bridge will take close to a year. Once the feasibility of the bridge is established, the geo-technical investigations, land acquisition and forest clearances for the new alignment would take a minimum of two years. Only then will construction begin. Even by conservative estimates, the project will be delayed by at least 10 years, causing a huge escalation in costs,” said a source. Ministry sources had recently told The Indian Express that the committee had permitted Railways “to start work at some locations” and that the Railways had “started conducting the technical tests, as indicated by the committee, at some of these locations”. “Amberg was asked to optimise the existing alignment. A technical examination of each kilometre is on and the expert committee has accepted a host of options leaving the final decision to the ministry. Safety of the line will be our paramount concern. The ministry may not agree with what Amberg has suggested,” a top ministry official told The Indian Express on Friday. Works on this section were suspended on July 14, 2008 following an order by former Member Engineering of the Railway Board, SK Vij. Following abysmal progress of the construction over several years, Vij had called for a review of the alignment.