Jammu-Baramulla line is the toughest engineering challenge for Indian Railways
Soon after gaining Independence and the trauma of Partition that followed, Assam urgently needed a new rail link as the existing Bengal Assam Railway was through the newly created East Pakistan and was by now firmly closed.
Equally important was a rail link to Pathankot, which provided a vital road connection into Kashmir as after its accession to India the normal rail route to the valley via Jammu, Sialkot to major cities such as Lahore and Karachi was also cut off.
Indian Railways rose to the occasion, and work on a 227-km-long Assam metre gauge rail link into the Northeast, connecting Siliguri to Fakiragram of the old Bengal Assam Railway was started in January 1948 and completed within two years, the line being inaugurated on January 26, 1950.
Sardar Patel, the Iron Man of India, had reportedly summoned Karnail Singh, the engineer-in-chief of the project, and on being told that hundreds of bridges were required to be built, advised him, “build them of gold if need be, but complete the line fast.”
Simultaneously a 44-km rail line was built from Punjab’s Mukerian to Pathankot—a station on the erstwhile North Western Railway—and formally opened to traffic on April 7, 1952, providing an invaluable rail head for Jammu & Kashmir.
In order to replace Karachi, which had also served major parts of North India, a brand new port was built at Kandla in 1950 to provide an alternative route, shorter than that to Mumbai, on the Western seaboard.
The Railways once again pitched in with a brand new 274-km-long metre gauge line from Deesa to Kandla, work on which was started in January 1950 and completed on a war footing in October 1952. In due course all these three alignments have been converted to broad gauge.
However, the Kashmir Railway was a different kettle of fish; unlike the flood plains of Brahmaputra in the Northeast or the desert flats from Deesa to Kandla, it involves cutting a passage through the mighty Pir Panjal mountain range—with its treacherous geological formation—and the fast flowing Chenab, besides the hazards of executing such mega construction in a hostile environment open to terrorist attacks.
Though the Jammu-Udhampur project had an optimistic schedule of five years and a budget of R50 crore, as set by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1983, it took