The Indian Railways added another feather in its cap with the historic milestone of connecting Kashmir valley with the Jammu region. The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh dedicated the newly constructed railway line between Banihal (Jammu region)-Qazigund (Kashmir valley) section to the nation by flagging off the first DEMU train from Banihal through the Pir Panjal tunnel- the longest transportation tunnel of India, from Banihal Railway station in Jammu & Kashmir today. Chairperson, UPA, Smt. Sonia Gandhi, Governor of J&K, Shri N.N. Vohra, Minister for Railways, Shri Mallikarjun Kharge, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, Shri Ghulam Nagi Azad Chief Minister of J&K, Shri Omar Abdullah, and Dy. Speaker, Vidhansabha, J&K, Shri Sartaj Madani were also present on the occasion.
Ircon International Ltd., a PSU under the Ministry of Railways, has been the principal executing agency for Northern Railway to execute the work of Dharam-Qazigund Section of USBRL Project which includes Banihal-Qazigund section and Pir Panjal Tunnel.
The Kashmir Valley railway ( Qazigund-Baramulla section) is a 119 km long modern railway line that became completely operational in October 2009. So far it is an island railway, not yet connected to the Indian Railway network. It connects Baramula in the western part of Kashmir to Qazigund at the other end of the Valley, via Srinagar. With today’s dedication of this challenging project to the nation, the extension of this railway line beyond the Pir Panjal Mountains in to the Jammu region has been achieved with trains running on the new railway section of Qazigund-Banihal. The 17.7 km long rail link paves way for the future railway connectivity of Kashmir region with the national railway network.
On 28th December, 2012, the first trial run train was operated on this section of Qazigund-Banihal which is 17.7 kms long, of this 6.5 km is on cutting and embankment including bridges. This section mostly consists of a 11.2 km long, Tunnel T-80 which pierces through the Pir Panjal range, providing a direct rail connection between the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region. About 11,78,500 cubic meters of earthwork in cutting and filling has been done. The maximum depth of cutting on this section is 15.20 meters and maximum height of embankment is 16.70 meters. 39 bridges have also been constructed in this section which include two major bridges, 30 minor bridges and 7 Road Over Bridges/Road Under Bridges. The total expenditure of Rs. 1691.00 cr. has been incurred by the railways to complete this section.
Tunnel T-80 has been provided the State of the Art systems with CCTV cameras at every 62.5 m, linear fire detection system, fire fighting system with fire hydrants at every 125 m, emergency telephone with communication to control room at every 250 m, fire extinguishers and fire alarm at every 250 m, air quality monitoring system at every 500 m, escape route signs to guide the shortest escape route in emergency at every 50 m, emergency lighting and normal lighting and public address system. A 3.0 m wide road along the track for rescue and maintenance purpose has been constructed with a 772.0 m long escape tunnel to provide additional escape route. Tunnel ventilation system has been provided which consists of 25 fans along the tunnel, installed in the ceiling of tunnel in groups of 5 each.
Falling in difficult and mountainous terrain, the State of Jammu & Kashmir has always been a challenge to transportation providers. Other factors which increase the difficulty in providing modes of mass transportation is that the area is geologically unstable, prone to tremors and earthquakes, with deep gorges alternating steep between rocky mountains. For any construction activity, the weather is quite inclement too. Long months of incessant rains and heavy snow can put life on hold for many. But there is a positive fall out of this difficulty too. The residents of these areas have evolved fine traditions in handicrafts in the periods of being home bound and have made established themselves as the finest craftsmen in the world.
Northern Railway has worked in these circumstances and has created the most modern railway line in the Kashmir Valley which provides economical, all weather connectivity. This is something the residents appreciate, especially when other facilities grind to a halt in deep snow. While building this railway line, Northern Railway did not only have to cope with the difficult terrain, geology and the weather. Since it was found to be imperative to complete this railway line at the earliest, construction was started simultaneously at different sites and as the stretch in the Kashmir valley rail link was completed before the rail link which would connect it to the remaining Indian Railway network, all rolling stock and other equipments required for construction and running of trains was transported by road and reassembled once it had reached there. But the result is gratifying.
On commissioning of this section, the first rail link will be established between the Jammu Region and Kashmir Valley providing all weather connectivity with significantly reduced travel time through the Pir Panjal mountains. This will be an alternative connection between the two regions for the Jawahar Tunnel too, which is often snow bound during the winter months. With this section the distance between Banihal-Qazigund section has been reduced to 17.7 kms by railway line instead of 35 kms long road length.
With the completion of this section the Kashmir Valley has come a step closer to being connected to the remaining Indian Railway network, signifying the dedication and resolution of Northern Railway in providing rail connectivity to the farthest corners in its jurisdiction.
The Prime Minister also travelled in the train from Banihal to Qazigund along with a group of school children.
Also on the occasion, the UPA Chairperson, Smt. Sonia Gandhi released a book titled “Pir-Panjal Railway Tunnel – a dream Realized” compiled by project team to commemorate the completion of this engineering marvel which gives an insider perspective to the challenging task of construction of Pir-Panjal Railway Tunnel through mighty Himalayas.
Local representatives of people also attended the function. Chairman, Railway Board, Shri Vinay Mittal, Member Engineering Railway Board, Shri Subodh Jain. General Manager Northern Railway Shri V.K.Gupta, CMD IRCON, Shri Mohan Tiwari were among those present on the occasion.