The steel rail bridge coming up over the river Chenab, said to be the world's tallest and longest, will also be the safest in the country from the security point of view.
It is part of the Jammu-Baramulla rail line now under execution that would link Kashmir with the rest of the country. The critical project has opened up the pristine mountains to even the locals, spurring development and rehabilitation of those seeking to return to the mainstream in the Valley and the State in general.
The job of constructing the most challenging 70-km stretch between Katra and Dharam has been vested with the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited, while the Northern Railway is executing the portion connecting Udhampur and Katra. IRCON has the responsibility of laying the track from Dharam to Baramulla via Srinagar.
The focal feature of the 328-km all-weather route from Katra to Baramulla is the 1,315-metre-long rail bridge across the Chenab — an engineering marvel.
The rail link to Kashmir was launched in 2003 but work was suspended in 2008 for reviewing the alignments, when attention was focused on securing the bridge from possible attack. Despite the delay, the cost of constructing the bridge has been retained at Rs. 512 crore.
A Finnish consultant is now revising the design to make the bridge — which will be supported by a 467-metre steel arch structure — blast proof, KRCL executive director Rajesh Agarwal told a team of visiting journalists. Even if somebody throws an RDX bomb from a running train, the bridge being constructed with 25,000 tonnes of special steel of 63 mm thickness, will withstand the blast.
The concrete pillars too have been subjected to special treatment to bear the brunt of explosives. Given the bridge's crucial location, a ring of air safety network has been cast against any aerial attack. The bridge, with a lifespan of 120 years, will be the first in the country to get such a sophisticated ring of security.
Mobilisation of resources has been completed with about 8,000 tonnes of steel already stacked up at the work site and the erection of concrete piers. Real work will start once the Finnish company prepares the final design, which is expected in about three months. The project is expected to be completed by December 2017.
The pylon of cable cars is in place and, tragically, during the initial work, two personnel lost their lives due to a malfunction at the worksite.
The tall rail bridge — 359 metres from the river bed — has been designed to withstand wind speed of up to 260 km an hour, though the in-built system will automatically stop movement of trains as and when the wind velocity reaches 90 to 100 km an hour. Generally the wind blows at about 40 km per hour at these higher reaches.
To construct this 70-km stretch, which has 18 tunnels and 26 bridges, the KRCL has had to construct 166 km of new roads on these steep mountain slopes, much to the delight of the local people living in remote villages. “We had to otherwise trek our way to and fro,” said a gleeful Mushtaq Ahmed.
Now buses trundle along these roads, most of which are yet to be black-topped. It has also opened up new opportunities, with commercial activities too picking up along the routes, spurring economic development.
It has given more than 4,000 jobs to the locals, including those who had gone wayward. “The families of surrendered militants come to us pleading that their wards be given jobs,” said project director Rajesh Tripathi.
As a matter of fact, the project has been specifically aligned to touch the lives of the people. The government had struck down the initial blueprint that suggested a couple of tunnels of 35-50 km length and just about a couple of bridges. But that would have bypassed the local residents, who can now use the train service.
Both Mr. Tripathi and Mr. Agarwal expressed confidence of completing the bridge in 42 months, the latest by 2016.