Kashmir railway snippets

Two weeks after its inauguration by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the first railway line in the Kashmir valley has undergone a major change. Its under-construction route to cross the Himalayan barrier and join the rest of the country has been revised extensively to make it shorter, safer and more cost effective.On October 23, the Railway Board’s member (engineering) S K Vij ordered a slew of modifications, including the shifting of the much touted Chenab bridge 2.5 km upstream and thereby slashing its height by more than half from 350 metres to 160 metres. This follows his September 4 decision,scrapping the fouryear-old project of building the world’s highest bridge on Chenab as the gorge in the landslide prone Himalayas was found to be too unstable to bear the weight of the proposed mega arch.The latest order makes it clear that the mega arch bridge plan has been discarded because the site has “many shortcomings” and a study done by Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, has also brought out “the limitations and difficulties” involved in the project.If the October 23 decision is taken to its logical conclusion, the modified alignment for the entire line between Katra and Banihal in the treacherous high relief region of Jammu will be reduced from 125 km to 69 km as it is based on the latest technology of tunneling through the mountains (in preference to skirting them). Since the modified alignment is going to be straighter, it will cut down on 11 sharp turns, including two hairpin bends, in the single-tube tunnels that were originally planned to be built. In a major safety measure, Vij ordered that the tunnels should have twin tubes, which will not only make construction easier but also help evacuate passengers in the event of a train accident (fire, collision or derailment) inside the mountain. Just the as the Chenab bridge is being shifted out of a gorge, the other bridges on the modified alignment will also be located on more stable slopes in wider valleys. In fact, the number of bridges reduces drastically from 93 to nine and tunnels from 64 to 10. As Vij put it in his order, “There will be savings in the cost of overall project besides improving constructability and survivability.” Despite the benefit of an additional line, the modified alignment is estimated by the board to result in the saving of about Rs 1,000 crores. Since the board will now have to write off collapses and damages to the tune of Rs 700 crores and idling claims from contracts of Rs 1,000 crores, Vij ordered that the new contracts should incorporate clauses regarding “risk sharing for geological surprises.”

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