Since 1997, the Srinagar – Barallulla Rail Link Project is one of the most challenging and costly projects. The Chenab railway bridge is a part of this project. This route covers some of the unthinkable terrains that make the project more perplexing. When the then-Prime Minister HD Deva Gowda started the project, he never assumed that it would take until 2021 to complete the highest railway bridge of the world connecting Kashmir with rest of India.
History of Chenab Bridge
Although proposed in 1997, the project was initiated in 1989 by Dogra rulers of the region. However, their idea was connecting Kashmir with Jammu with a rail link. Due to the partition of Indo-Pakistan into two countries, they halted the project for several decades and it was planned again in 1970 to connect the two destinations via Pathankot of Punjab.
In the past, the project was expected to be completed by 2002. However, the deadline missed and an extended time grace was given to be completed in 2007. However, due to several safety concerns, the process was temporarily halted in 2008. Later, a new deadline was given for the project as 2015. Sreedharan IRSC (ret) also called as Metro Man brought out the idea that the project was not safe to hold the bridge during landslide or earthquake. His suggestions were taken in and the project was restarted in 2016. Subsequently, several deadlines were missed in 2016 – 2017 and in 2019.
According to Sanjay Gupta, the Managing Director of the Konkan Railways, the new deadline for this project is December 2021. New resources and enormous efforts are put by the department to complete this project within time. A huge chuck of work related to building this 359m tall bridge is in completion stage, according to Gupta.
Cost of Chenab Bridge
The cost of this project is estimated to come around INR 12,000 crores by the end of the deadline. This whooping cost is due to the tough manual work in a harsh terrain and life-threatening conditions. Best technologies and expert engineering minds are hired for the work, from around the world. According to Chief Engineer of Konkan Railways, R K Hedge, the rail project will be a marvel in the world of railways, once it is completed. More than 4000 technical staffs and low-level laborers are involved in this project, struggling through tunnel collapse, landslides, sand erosion, flooding, mudslide, and others.
This project runs through three different geographical regions namely, the Pir Panjal Thrust, Reasi Thrust, and Murree Thrust. Each thrust zone has a different geographical feature like faulted sand stone, loose conglomerate, silt stones, and others. This change in geology added additional challenges to the project, which is already riddled with problems like extremely cold temperature, very high altitude, harsh terrain, earthquake-prone zone, and others. Many new and extensive engineering inventions were made for building tunnel portals, bridges, approach roads, deep cutting, and others.
Role of Konkan Railway Department
53.6 km long section of the Katra-Dharam project is assigned to Konkan Railways for proper execution. This includes 46 km of tunnels, 4.6 km of bridges, and the remaining distance is filled with embankments, cuttings, and others. In addition to that, the department is also in charge for constructing roads and tunnels for the temporary bridges that currently provide access to the Katra-Dharam project region. This includes 160 km of roads. 70% of the road project is already completed, according to Gupta.
This project is assumed to provide considerable boost to tourism in this area. With better connectivity of Jammu and Kashmir with rest of the country, the economy of the region will increase too.
Role of Indian Defence Force
Due to the geographical location of the bridge in a politically unstable region, the risk of anti-national forces attacking the bridge is very high. Thus, the DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organization) and Indian Railways are working together to create a bridge which can with stand any major attack, including blasts. According to top officials, the bridge is currently being built with a special grade steel of 63mm thickness, which can withstand blasts.
Interesting Facts about Chenab Railway Bridge
Dimensions of the Bridge:
This bridge is the tallest and longest railway bridge in the world. The bridge is 359m tall and has a length of 1,315m. For comparison, the height of Eiffel Tower of France is 324 m. Chenab Railway Bridge is a part of Srinagar – Barallulla Rail Link Project, which connects Kashmir with Udhampur. Chenab Railway Bridge is built over Chenab River.
Strength of the Bridge
This project when completed will have a lifespan of 120 years and more.The bridge is built to resist high seed winds up to a speed of 260 km per hour. This is the first Indian bridge to be built with steel arches.The bridge can withstand a freezing temperature of -20 degree C.The steel is blast-proof providing security for terrorism activities. The bridge can withstand an earthquake with zone 5 intensity(the highest ever recorded in India).
Challenges in Constructing the Bridge:
The bridge's main challenge is to be built without obstructing the Chenab River flow. Thus, the bridge is built in straight and curve designs, with changing radius. More than 1500 works are working around the clock with this project.
Use of the Bridge
Jammu to Srinagar travel take 11 hours via road. After the construction of this bridge, the rail distance between the two destinations will fall to just five hours. This is expected to boost the economy and tourism in the region.