Kashmir Traders Upbeat As World’s Highest Rail Bridge Nearing Completion

World’s highest single-arch railway bridge over the Chenab river on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo | PTI)

Ramban- Chenab Bridge, considered to be the world’s highest railway bridge is nearing completion and generating hope of uninterrupted supply line and transport connection for passenger traffic, once the direct link between Kashmir Valley and rest of India becomes a reality.

Last Saturday, the government formally inaugurated the golden joint of the railway bridge connecting two ends of the deck of the bridge. With this, the government’s long-cherished dream of direct train service linking Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country, will come true.

The railway bridge, which is 35 metres taller than the Eiffel Tower, has been constructed by Mumbai-based infrastructure major Afcons and is part of the ambitious Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link (USBRL) project carried out by Northern Railways at an estimated cost of Rs 28,000 crore.

The bridge which is 1,315 metre long forms a crucial link in the 111-km stretch from Katra to Banihal, which is part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla section of the Kashmir Railway project.

It may be noted that the government is also working on the Jammu-Baramulla railway project and the work is being done phase wise. Once the project gets completed, Kashmir will be fully connected with the rest of the country through rail.

An official of Northern Railways told Kashmir Observer that the project is likely to be completed in 2023-24.

Pertinently, the Kashmir Valley remains cut-off from the rest of the world during the winter season as landslides and shooting stones usually block the treacherous Srinagar-Jammu highway—the only road connecting Kashmir Valley with the rest of India.

The railway project would also minimize highway accidents and fatalities which would usually occur due to shooting stones.

Sheikh Ashiq, president, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Inc) maintains that the all weather railway service will not only promote tourism but will boost the economy of the region and the rates will be minimal.

“Our goods would get stuck on Srinagar-Jammu national highway for days due to bad weather. However, we can now easily transport our goods to other parts of the country and vice versa,” Ashiq added.

He said it was long-pending demand of the traders and will “revolutionise transportation of goods”

The development has brought cheers to the tourism players in the Valley, who maintain that the direct train service will significantly improve Valley’s connectivity with other parts of the country and also boost tourism industry and create more employment avenues for the local youth.

Manzoor Ahmad Pakthoon, Chairman, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Alliance (JKTA) noted that they are expecting more budget-class tourists to visit Kashmir as they prefer travelling by road.

Due to less connectivity, tourists wouldn’t prefer to visit Kashmir via road but now with the direct railway line, more people will come,” Pakthoon told Kashmir Observer.

He further said that the airfare prices remain all-time high in J&K as a result of which lower and middle class people drop the idea of visiting the Valley.

“Now everybody can come to Kashmir via train,” he said.

He further added that the direct train service will be all-weather and cost-effective and will catalyze industrialization, movement of raw materials, trade, tourism besides generating employment.
Deputy Director Tourism, Kashmir, Ahsanul Haq Chishti told Kashmir Observer that the better connectivity will definitely help the region to boost tourism and business as well.

“The tourism department has been doing road shows in different parts of the country and we will do it regressively,” he said.

He said the department has taken many initiatives to accommodate more and more tourists in the valley.

“The idea of home stay is now there and the other infrastructure related to tourism is also being built gradually,” he added.

It may be noted that the Union Territory has witnessed record breaking tourist arrivals in the ongoing year.

Last month, Union Minister for Tourism, G K Reddy said that 1.05 crore tourists have visited Jammu and Kashmir in the first six months of the current year.

97.6% Tunnelling Work On Katra-Banihal Link Completed

More than 75 per cent of the total 37 bridges and 97.6 percent tunnelling work on the vital Katra-Banihal railway link stands completed, officials of the northern railways said, expressing hope that Kashmir will be connected to the rest of the country via train next year.

The Katra-Banihal stretch is part of the prestigious Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) Project which has missed several deadlines in the past amid huge cost escalations since 1997, when the then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda laid its foundation at Udhampur.

In view of the importance of the USBRL project in providing seamless and hassle-free connectivity, the 272-Km-long railway line project was declared as a ‘national project’ in 2002.

While the 161 km was commissioned in phases with first phase 118-km Qazigund-Baramulla section commissioned in October 2009 followed by 18-km Banihal-Qazigund in June 2013 and 25-km Udhampur-Katra in July 2014.

“The intervening stretch of the Katra-Banihal section (111 km) is in progress. This is, perhaps, the most difficult new railway line project undertaken in the Indian subcontinent. This section predominantly involves tunnelling of 164 Km (97.57 km main tunnel and 66.4 km of escape tunnel), in addition to construction of 37 bridges on Chenab river and its tributary Anji Khad,” an official said.

At present, he said 160.52 Km of tunnelling (95.47 km of main tunnel and 65.05 km of escape tunnel) and 28 bridges, out of total 37 have been completed, the official said.

He said the work on the project is going on in full swing and “we are hopeful about commissioning the final phase to connect Kashmir with the rest of the country next year.”

Referring to the completion of the overarch deck of Chenab railway bridge in Reasi district with the laying of the ‘golden joint’ on August 13 as a milestone, the official said the “minor” works on the nearly 1.3 km bridge is expected to be completed by November this year.

The paradigmatic bridge is located 359 m above the Chenab riverbed in Kauri village and is 30 m higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Once completed, the bridge will be able to withstand winds with speed up to 260 kmph and will have a lifespan of 120 years, the official said.

The project has other firsts like the longest railway tunnel having overall length of 12.75 km situated between Sumber and Arpinchala in Sangaldan area of Ramban district which has been made through on February 15 and first cable-stayed bridge which when completed would be an engineering marvel of 21st century.

In addition, the official said a 205-Km access road has also been completed which provides connectivity to far flung and inaccessible remote areas, leading to socio-economic development of the local residents.

The cumulative expenditure on Katra-Banihal section up to June is Rs 23,071 crore, he said. The officials said the electrification work on the railway line from Banihal to Baramulla is in progress and is likely to be completed by October.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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