Kashmir Rail Link Project9 December 2010
Northern Voices Online
New Delhi: The Indian Railways have done it again. It has completed the construction of the tunnel on the most challenging section of the Kashmir Rail link Project between Katra and Qazigund. The 1483 metre tunnel has come up at Sangaldhan near Ramban and has been completed in a record time of 28 months. Katra – Qazigund section is a stretch of 129 kilometres of rail track, out of which as much as 103 kilometres will be in the form of tunnels. Of these, about 70 are major tunnels. The Railways achieved a similar breakthrough in July this year by constructing a 1671 metre tunnel in the same section. The completion of the second tunnel is a major achievement for the railways in view of the stupendous engineering challenges it had posed. The success has also overcome the alignment problems which had cropped up earlier. Carrying rail to Kashmir has been a dream project for the Central Government. It began with the construction of Jammu-Udhumpur line which was completed about 5years ago. It is now being extended to Katra, the base station for the popular Vaishno Devi yatra. Work on this section is in full swing. The tail end of the project, between Qazigund to Baramulla in the Kashmir valley, has since been completed and thrown open to public. The entire line, called the Jammu-Udhampur-Katra-Quazigund-Baramulla link, is being developed to provide an alternative and reliable transportation system to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. At present the valley is connected by only a road link. The present project is the only railway line in mountainous ranges in India that is being constructed in broad gauge. The project is quite challenging and a prestigious one, as the 345 kilometres route crosses major earthquake zones in a most inhospitable terrain. It will have about 30 stations en-route. At that time, the proposal was to construct the track over the Pir Panjal range, touching a height of 11,000 feet, following the Mugul road. But none of the proposals came to fruition because of significant engineering challenges. It was only in 1994 that the Indian Railways took up the project in right earnest but lack of funds led to delay in its execution. Only after it was declared a National Project in 2001 by the Central Government, funds started becoming available for its execution. The line connects states winter capital Jammu to its summer capital Srinagar. The first stretch of the project between Jammu and Udhumpur is 53 kilometres long and passes through picturesque sub-mountainous region. It has 158 bridges out of which 36 are major ones. It also has a tunnel length of 10 kilometres. This section was thrown open to the public in April 2005. The second stretch connects Udhampur to Katra which involves construction of 25 kilometres track. It is scheduled to be completed next year. It too will have 10.9 kilometres of tunnels and 38 major and minor bridges. A 90m-bridge is the tallest bridge in this section, while the longest tunnel is 3.15 kilometres. The third, the longest and most challenging section will connect Katra to Qazigund and is scheduled to be completed by 2016. A 1.3 kilometres bridge being constructed across the river Chenab in this section will be the world’s tallest railway bridge. It will be 359 metres above the river bed. This section will also have a tunnel of 10.95 kilometres length which is being constructed at Quazigund, the gateway to the Kashmir valley and will be the longest tunnel for the railway. The fourth section connects Qazigund to Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley which was completed in October 2009 and is already serving the people of the valley. It has a length of 119 kilometres and includes 704 major and minor bridges. It was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh by flagging off the first train in the valley and thus ushering in a new era for the people of the valley. The project presents one of the greatest engineering challenges and is comparable with only the China-Tibet rail route, which passes through frozen ground and climbs to more than 5,000 metres above sea level. The toughest portion of the project is being managed by the Konkan Railway Corporation. The completion of the project will open up the State’s economy and boost the development process which has suffered a great deal due to ongoing militancy. It will also provide both direct and indirect employment to the youth of the State. In view of the security concerns, adequate arrangements have been made for its safety, using modern technology. Despite the huge challenges, the project is slowly becoming a reality. Once completed it will indeed be an engineering marvel and harbinger of prosperity for Kashmir.