Taming Panchal

It took more than a century to realize Maharaja Pratap Singh’s dream of having an all weather access route out of Kashmir valley. Finally engineers have tamed the mighty Pir Panchal by drilling Asia’s second longest tunnel through it, Tasavur Mushtaq reports.


South Asia’s second largest tunnel. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
South Asia’s second largest tunnel.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Finally the treacherous mountainous terrains of Pir Panchal are tamed. It has been a challenge for engineers and draftsmen to connect Srinagar with Jammu through an all weather rail link.

An engineering marvel that took more than seven years to come up, Banihal-Qazigund rail link, has turned Kashmir’s dream of an all-weather surface link into a reality. The link connects Baramulla in the western part of Kashmir to Qazigund at the other end of the Valley, via Srinagar.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on his recent visit along with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi dedicated the newly constructed railway line by flagging off the first DEMU train which travelled from Banihal through the Pir Panchal and reached Qazigund.

The link which has come up at the total expenditure of Rs 1691 crore has maximum depth of 15.20 meters cutting and maximum height of embankment is 16.70 meters.

The 17.7 kilometre long stretch has a total of 39 bridges which include two major, 30 minor bridges and 7 Road Over Bridges/Road Under Bridges. But what makes this stretch an engineering marvel is a 10.96 kilometer long tunnel which cuts though the heart of Pir Panchal, making it the longest tunnel in India and second longest in Asia.

The work on this tunnel was started in 2005, employing about 1500 workers mostly from neighboring country Nepal. For the specialized work several departments of HCC engineers and foreign technicians were involved.

Earlier 6.5 kilometre long Karbude Tunnel of famed Konkan railways was the longest tunnel in India. However 20 kilometer long Wushaoling tunnel in Gansu, China still holds the number one position. Aligned from North to South, the tunnel is 100 per cent water proof. The principle adopted for construction of the tunnel is New Australian Tunneling Method (NATM) where the geological stress from surrounding rock is used to stabilize the tunnel hole.

The tunnel boasts of some of the state of art systems like CCTV cameras at every 62. 5 meters, linear fire detection system, fire fighting system with fire hydrants at every 125 meters, emergency telephone with communication to control room at every 250 meters, fire extinguishers and fire alarm at every 250 meters, air quality monitoring system at every 500 meters, escape route signs to guide the shortest escape route in case of emergency at every 50 meters, emergency lighting and normal lighting and public address system.

The tunnel also has a 3 meter wide road for rescue and maintenance purpose which runs parallel to the track.  Tunnel ventilation system has 25 fans installed in the ceiling groups.

Built at a cost of Rs1,300 crore ($213 million), the tunnel has reduced the surface distance between the Qazigund town in the Valley and Banihal town in the Jammu region from 35 kilometers to just 11kilometres.

IRCON International Ltd, a PSU under the Ministry of Railways, has been the principal executing agency for Northern Railway to execute the work of Dharam-Qazigund Section of USBRL Project which includes Banihal-Qazigund section and Pir Panchal Tunnel.

To facilitate the work, the total length of Dharam to Qazigund section was divided into six zones by IRCON and contract was awarded to different agencies for early completion. Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), executed more than 170 kilometers of construction work.

Pir Panchal Tunnel comes under Zone V called as T-80.  The major work of T-80 (excavation and lining) was divided into four separate contracts and out of 10.96 kilometers the excavation for 10.375 kilometers and lining for 10.36 kilometers was awarded to HCC.

The total area of tunneling was excavated using Tunnel Excavator technique. The Pir Panchal is known to have the most challenging geological condition, occurrence of rock bursting, excavation in soft ground, restriction of blasting due to existence of villages over the alignment of the tunnel, excavation through heavy ingress of water and in shear zones, casting on invert lining inside the tunnel.

The project is so far just an island railway as it is not yet connected to the Indian Railway.  But with the mighty Pir Panchal tamed now, the remaining link is not a distant dream.

The first trial run was done on this section on December 28, 2012.

Longest Transportation Tunnel in India

Total length of Tunnel is water Proofed

First Large scale use of NATM method in India

Highest overburden of 1100 m

Total excavation quantity is equal to one mountain

Total rock bolts used in the project is 315 Km

Provision of ADIT and Shaft for parallel working

The section will reduce the distance from 35 km (by road) to 18 km

Train requires  minimum  6.6 minutes  for crossing the total length of tunnel  as per the design speed (100Km/hr)


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