The tunnel has been provided with a three metre wide road for maintenance vehicles
March will be a turning point not only for the railways but also the people of Kashmir when the first rail connectivity will be formally commissioned between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the country, even if partially.
Partially because the train service in the Valley will be extended up to Banihal the last station in Jammu region while the middle portion of the Jammu-Baramulla line will be completed in December 2017.
Basking on the successful trial run of the first train from Qazigund, the last station in the Valley, through the Pirpanjal Himalayan Ranges, which isolates the Valley, to Banihal in Jammu region, on Friday, the railways on Sunday expressed confidence about completing the electrical and mechanical works in the longest rail tunnel in the country by March.
History will be made when the crucial 17.729 km long Qazigund-Banihal section is formally dedicated to the nation ferrying people from and to the Valley particularly because it will provide an all weather connectivity that will put an end to the isolation of the Valley during severe winter and heavy snowfall.
The strategic importance of this section need hardly be stressed as the rail line is located at a much lower altitude reducing the problem of snowfall that makes the Pirpanjal ranges a major barrier during the winter season shutting the National Highway for days together.
IRCON International Limited Director (Works) Hitesh Khanna told reporters on Sunday the civil works of the section, including the most challenging job of constructing the 11.215 km long Pirpanjal Rail Tunnel and laying the track had been completed and what remained to be now undertaken were the electrical and mechanical (E&M) component , including safety aspects, of the tunnel work.
The tunnel was completed in October 2012 after a seven year effort at an estimated cost of Rs. 870 crore while the E&M will push the cost of the construction of the tunnel to Rs.1,172 crore. For the entire Qazigund-Banhila section the total cost works to Rs.1,670 crore. As the executing agency IRCON integrated the construction process by engaging various private agencies right from design to construction of the section.
What now needs to be done is providing the tunnel (known as T-80) with world class ventilation which alone will cost Rs. 140 crore. The tunnel will be fitted with safety installations like emergency lighting with UPS back up, escape signs with orientation, sensors for detection of obnoxious gases and fire detection and linear fire alarm systems, CCTV, tunnel radio and control systems, public address systems and ventilation control.
The tunnel with a single broad gauge line has been provided with a three metre wide road for maintenance vehicles and use in emergencies.
Once in March the 120 km operational Baramulla-Srinagar-Qazigund section is extended to Banihal this sleepy place is expected to turn into a transhipment centre being as it does the last station in Jammu region. Commuters from the Valley will change from train to road and conversely as the Banihal-Katra section is expected to take another five years for completion---December 2017.
The original Jamu-Baramulla stretch is 345 km long, of which Jammu to Udhampur is operational and the section Udhampur to Katra is expected to be commissioned in 2013. The Banihal-Katra section is expected to pose several challenges as it includes construction of the highest bridge in the world over Chenab river.