Train passengers in the Kashmir Valley can soon travel up to Banihal with railways today announcing completion of the key Qazigund-Banihal section which also comprises the longest transportation tunnel in the country built after a seven-year effort.
Opening of this section promises a new beginning for the the state as it will not only ease the transportation problem of people during winters when inclement weather forces closure of Jawahar Tunnel but will also considerably reduce the travel time between the two places.
The distance between Banihal and Qazigund, which is also one of the most treacherous stretches in the entire Kashmir rail network project, will reduce from 35 km by road to 17.729 km on train.
According to Northern Railway, trial runs have already started in the section, which forms a vital link in the project connecting Udhampur to Baramulla.
"This section, constructed at an expenditure of Rs 1691 crores, will be ready for opening shortly," said a senior Northern Railway official.
The highlight of the section, which will enable commuters to travel right up to Baramulla through Srinagar from Banihal, is the 11.2 km long tunnel under the Pir Panjal mountain range, billed as an engineering marvel.
The tunnel, which also has a service road running parallel to the track is the second longest in Asia, is constructed at a cost of Rs 1300 crore.
It took almost seven years to complete the tunnel. About 7,500 metric tonnes of steel, 3,28,000 cubic meters of concrete has been used and 10,00,000 cubic meters of underground excavation has been done to complete the tunnel.
About 1300 workers and 150 engineers worked round the clock to accomplish this challenging task, Northern Railways said.
The section comprises 39 bridges which include two major ones, 30 minor bridges and seven road over bridge and road under bridges.
The tunnel has been constructed by New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM) which was used for the first time on such large scale in India.
The tunnel has been made water proof by providing continuous PVC membrane between primary and secondary lining and is equipped with the state-of-the-art air quality monitoring system, ventilation system, communication system etc.