English News


India’s longest escape tunnel completed on Kashmir rail route

The 9.8 km tunnel connecting two stations on the 111 km under-construction Banihal-Katra railway link in Jammu and Kashmir has been completed.

Srinagar: India’s biggest project for connecting the Kashmir valley with the rest of the country has achieved a significant milestone with the completion of a 13-km long escape tunnel in the Pir Panjal Mountain range on Thursday.

Constructed on the 111-km under-construction Katra-Banihal railway track, the project is the country’s longest escape tunnel. It is part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Railway Line (USBRL) project which has already been completed up to the shrine town of Katra from Jammu side and up to Banihal from Kashmir side.

This is the fourth tunnel on the Banihal-Katra track following the 12.75 km long T-49 tunnel (until now the longest tunnel of the Indian Railways), which was completed in January 2022. According to Railway officials, the escape tunnel ‘T-13’ has been constructed to facilitate rescue operations in case of an emergency during construction and operation of the main tunnel.

The breakthrough came with a blast which marked the start of the escape tunnel.

“The construction work of escape tunnel T-13 for the longest rail tunnel T-49, between Khari and Banihal stations of Katra under USBRL project, was completed on Thursday after successfully negotiating major cavity formation,” a senior official associated with the ambitious project said. “This is the longest escape tunnel of India and its line and level are precisely achieved,” he asserted.

The official said that it is a modified horseshoe shape tunnel connecting the Sumber station yard on the south side and tunnel T-50 after crossing bridge number 4 over Khoda nullah on the north side at Khoda village.

The elevation of the south end at Sumber is approximately 1400.5 metres and of the north end 1558.84 metres. T-49 is a twin-tube tunnel comprising the main tunnel (12.75 km) and escape tunnel (12.89 kms) connected with 33 cross-passages, the officials said.

Several challenges were encountered in the course of the construction such as shear zone, perched aquifer, highly jointed rock mass, and heavy ingress of water, among others. It has been built in the most hostile Pir Panjal mountain range which has consumed many lives of humans and livestock in the past.

The worst Defence tragedy happened during a war with the Pakistani tribal raiders on 31 October 1947 when a Douglas C-47 Skytrain (D-3) aircraft crashed over the Pir Panjal cliffs causing the death of 22 soldiers and 3 pilots.

The Banihal mountains consumed another Dakota on May 8, 1957, a Packet C-119 on January 1, 1963, and an Illyushin-14 on February 18, 1964 killing 13 persons including a Major General. Its wreckage was claimed in May 1964. Another Antonov crashed near Kishtwar on March 22, 1986 killing all the 17 personnel and crew on board.

The worst civilian tragedy in Pir Panjal mountain range occurred on 7 February, 1966 when a Fokker F-27 Friendship 200 leased to Indian Airlines crashed near the infamous Hoon Heng cliff killing all the 37 passengers including four crew members. It was on the way to Jammu from Srinagar. At the peak of winter, then State or Central governments had no resources to manage recovery of the casualties. Then, civil society led by a Sopore businessman collected money and made all efforts to recover the bodies. The businessman who spearheaded the campaign had lost his son in the crash.

An old highway between Srinagar and Jammu, which is now being developed into a modern 4-lane highway with the ongoing constructions between Banihal and Nashri, has also consumed thousands of human lives in road accidents. It remains closed for several days or weeks during the hostile weather conditions in winter every year. Once completed, it will hugely benefit trade, tourism and economy in Kashmir as it will remain operational without any disruption by weather.

Out of the total 272 kilometres of the USBRL project, 161 km has been commissioned and operationalised. The work of the balance 111

km between Katra and Banihal is under progress at a rapid pace, the officials said. The Narendra Modi government at the Centre is keen to inaugurate a large number of the major communication infrastructure projects, including the upgraded and partly re-aligned 4-lane highway between Srinagar and Jammu and the prestigious Srinagar-Jammu rail link, in Jammu and Kashmir before the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.

December 2023 has been fixed as the deadline for most of these major infrastructure projects which will, for the first time in history, provide an assured 24x7x365 road and rail link between the Kashmir valley and the rest of the country.

On August 14, 2022, the world’s highest rail bridge over the Chenab river in Kauri area of the Reasi district achieved a milestone when the overarch deck of the bridge was completed with a golden joint.

Also Read: Gadkari promises 8-hour travel between Delhi and Srinagar by 2023