Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Asia's 2nd longest railway tunnel opens in Kashmir

This is the 3rd article in the series of railway connectivity between Kashmir and rest of India. In my earlier 2 (Article 1 and Article 2) articles I had written about the various stretches of Kashmir rail link that were completed and in completion. This 3rd article now is about the railway connectivity between Qazigund and Banihal.

Even after 65 years of our independence, Kashmir is not completely connected to India on the railway map. Now, we are very close to its completion except the stretch between Katra and Qazigund. The stretch between Katra and Qazigund is the toughest project Indian Railways has ever executed. The formidable Himalayan terrain presents never before seen challenge of having a railway track on the mountains. This is something Switzerland has quite remarkably done it.

If you observe in the pic above, Jammu was connected to India long back through train. Jammu-Udhampur, Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla railway tracks were made operational 3 years ago. The only stretch remaining is Udhampur-Qazigund. This stretch of the entire project is very challenging because of the terrain. It's highly mountainous and snow covered for almost 4 months of a year. Despite these hurdles and bureaucratic delays Banihal-Qazigund rail link successfully was run on a trial basis. This will open to public later this year and so the Udhampur Katra section.

This would facilitate 8 million pilgrims who travel to Vaishnov Devi (located in Katra) via train instead of road via Jammu. This shrine is the 2nd largest visited shrine after Tirupati. I have visited this shrine 3 times and each time the place mesmerized me. Once this train link opens in April this year (hopefully opens so) people can travel from any part of India to Katra via train. This will boost tourism and generate huge revenues.

The Banihal-Qazigund tunnel is the 2nd longest in Asia and longest in India. (Top 10 longest tunnels in india are given here). This train tunnel is an engineering feat by itself because the tunnel is 11.21 km and passes through PIR PANJAL mountain range which is one of the most rugged terrain.

Banihal - Qazigund total stretch = 17 km
The railway tunnel passing through Pir Panjal = 11.21 km (so, nearly 64% of the total 17 km travel between Banihal-Qazigund is via tunnels).

The impact on travel time of this train through tunnel:

By road Qazigund-Banihal is 35 km and it takes an hour by road passing through Jawahar tunnel. I have gone on this road and although it is meant to be all-weather road it is not so. Constant traffic jams and closure in winter due to snow is a common aspect throughout the year. With this train it reduces the distance to 17 km and time taken is not more than 6 min.

The world's highest railway bridge to be operational in 2016?

As mentioned earlier the Chenab river bridge that would connect Katra and Qazigund will be the world's highest railway bridge(1056 feet height and 1509 feet in width). The trains would be able to cruise at 100 km/hr.

Supposedly this bridge would have a lifespan of 120 years and would be resistant to blast and seismic disturbances. This is being executed by Konkan Railways. Konkan Railways has had a good reputation of executing toughest projects. 

What about North East India?

While other parts of the country are connected by train the north east isn't. Even today it is still a distant dream.

What about high speed trains and newer technology in trains?

Until Indian Railways is run like a government organization no high speeds and presence of newer technology can exist. Although Indian Railways has formed a separate ministry called National High Speed Railway Authority nothing has happened since then. Often bureaucratic committees go very slow and inhibit serious progress. It took 8 years to transform the picture of Highways scene mainly because of private participation and competition amongst different bidders. The Railways has not been fortunate to be so.

The highest speed we have been able to achieve is close to 150 km/hr while Chinese trains run more than 300 km/hr. We don't have to match 300 km/hr speed but if we build our trains that can run at least at 200 km/hr we would have achieved a big deal. Most importantly it is the railway stations and the maintenance of it that need a big overhaul. In this regard, seriously there is no initiative yet taken. People also are to be blamed for its pathetic maintenance. Even today simple things like LCD screens are absent.  The best parts of our railways include cheaper fares, extremely good connectivity to different parts of  the country, good food and many more.

In the new budget Railways introduced "Anubhuti" a new luxury train that is not as expensive as "Palace on wheels"  and not so cheap as 1st class Shatabdi trains....but what if at least some of these can be added to normal A/c coaches?


Anonymous said...

It would be a dream come true if they do these fast going trains. Y is that the interiors done by the government is always so bad?
No proper color combinations.It would take ages for them to come up with something real good.

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Anonymous said...

Kashmir Tunnels - India's greatest achievement in complex tunnel engineering -

Have a look how they are constructed.

Anonymous said...

These include one of Asia's oldest tunnels, the Parsik tunnel in Maharashtra. The Konkan Railway in Maharashtra, stretching 760 kms, with 59 stations, 92 tunnels and 2,328 bridges is also one of India's standout railway projects.
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