Reasi/Jammu: The Chenab Rail Bridge, touted to be world’s highest railway bridge, is being built in one of the most difficult topographies in the country. Once complete, this ambitious project, considered to be an engineering marvel, will link Jammu to Kashmir and, in turn, open the Valley to the rest of India.
In the same Reasi district where Chenab Bridge falls, there is another rail bridge — Anji Khad — considered to be India’s first-ever cable-styled rail bridge.
The zinc-coated strands on the side claw the bridge, and also invigorates it for the highly anticipated train journey of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Railway Line (USBRL) project expected to begin operations by January next year.
The USBRL project, a brainchild of the Indian Railways, has been in the planning process since 1999, but after several delays due to financial constraints and geographic limitations, it is now nearing completion and is envisaged to connect Jammu to Kashmir.
Located in high seismic zones and regions prone to heavy wind and landslides, both the “engineering marvels’’ had to be provided with special materials and were designed in a way that required the least maintenance and extra protection.
“As far as the maintenance is concerned, this project is very important. The track and tunnels are planned and designed in such a way that it requires the least maintenance possible,” Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw told media Sunday.
The minister — who was on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir to inspect the ongoing work on the project — addressed a press conference after travelling on the track-mounted trolley with other railway officials post their survey of the 359m-high Chenab Bridge.
Largely, the entire USBRL project was full of challenges, and, according to Vaishnaw, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision and leadership that accelerated it. “We are creating a special training academy in Jammu where engineers and technicians from across the country can come and learn how to maintain such projects,” he added.
On security issues, the railway officials ThePrint spoke to said, while the district has not witnessed much militancy, provisions have been made for safety that will be ensured by police, railways and security forces together.
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Steel-strengthened Chenab Bridge
Built at a cost of Rs 1,486 crore, the Chenab Bridge can withstand winds of about 266 kmph speed, according to the details shared by the Northern Railway, which ThePrint has accessed.
The “track-linking activity” over the arch bridge was recently completed using 2,487 sleepers by the Long-Welded Rail (LWR).
“Konkan Railway is the organisation that is basically supervising the construction of the rail bridge. From Katra, if you have to take a train, this is the best place where the bridge could be built. There are also no restrictions on load on this bridge,” Sanjay Gupta, chairman and managing director of Konkan Railway, told ThePrint.
The construction of the 1.3 km bridge falls in the Katra-Banihal section — one of the four sections of the USBRL project. Udhampur-Katra, Banihal-Qazigund and Qazigund-Baramulla are the other sections.
“There are about 28,000 tonnes of steel being used in the bridge. Similarly, 18,000 special bars were used to provide strong foundations and stability. All safety and security measures have been taken into consideration. It is a very strong bridge…made in such a way that it has a life of 120 years,” Vaishnaw told the media on Sunday.
As the area falls in the seismic zone IV, the minister also said that the bridge was being built to resist tremors of magnitude about 8 on the Richter scale, which is considered severe and can totally destroy communities near the epicenter.
According to Gupta, the construction of this arch bridge was a “learning experience” because it posed a unique geological challenge.
He told ThePrint about the nature of the young Himalayas and how its ‘soft solid’ rocks were not as helpful as granite, or any other rocks that are more favourable for these kinds of projects. He added that the steel was sourced from outside the region, which is not used in normal constructions, and the special bars had made the project tough.
Additionally, according to the Northern Railway, the project has already provided many socio-economic benefits to the surrounding areas.
“The 205 km of approach roads constructed for the project provide connectivity to inaccessible areas benefitting about 73 villages with a population of 1.5 lakh as 65 per cent of employment was given to the locals,” Ashutosh Gangal, General Manager, Northern Railway told ThePrint.
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Cable-styled Anji Bridge
Anji Khad bridge, India’s first cable-style bridge, also fell a little before, but, in the same segment as Chenab, connecting Katra to Reasi. It is being developed at a cost of over Rs 400 crore.
With a length of 441.25 metre, the bridge has been enjoined with about 96 cables for support of which 84 are completed.
A senior official working on the site said it was an “asymmetrical bridge” because there was less space to expand on the Katra side and, therefore, it had to be supported by just one “vertical pylon” (a large erect structure like a pillar) 331m from above the riverbed.
Gupta explained that another model was not possible because of the site’s specifications. “There are tunnels on both sides, one is 3km and the other about 5km, railway tracks have been laid on both sides,” he said.
He added that, though the entire area falls in the seismic zone IV, the bridges have been prepared for zone V and that the last 100 earthquakes were studied to understand the situation.
Anji bridge can resist the wind of 213 kmph, but in case of heavy rainfall, the train, which will travel at a speed of 100 kmph, have to be stopped, the official added.
“Around 90 per cent of the work on the project is already done and the remaining is expected to be completed by May-June. The wind right now is very strong and that’s why the work has stopped. About 500 people at a time are working round-the-clock to complete the project, except during rainfall and at night,” Sandeep Gupta, Chief Engineer, Northern Railway told ThePrint.
A cable bridge is supported by vertical pylons. Based on the information shared by the Northern Railway, the bridge is about 725.5 metre (473.25m covering the deep valley) and has a 193 metre (top of the foundation) Y-shaped pylon supporting the superstructure.
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The rest of the project
The whole Katra-Banihal section has about 97 km of land that is running under 27 tunnels and only 7km of plain stretch was available, where 37 bridges have been constructed, Gangal explained.
“This project is unique in a lot of ways. There are a number of stations and yards that are under the tunnel or bridge extensions. The area was highly inaccessible that’s why 205 km of approach roads were constructed so that men and material could reach the sites,” he told ThePrint.
The Northern Railway GM also talked about the tunnels that were at a distance of about 10 km to each other but posed serious issues, which, he said, could be addressed by ensuring emergency escapes, fire protection and air availability.
On the questions about the water flow through the tunnels, which were being diverted, Sanjay Gupta of Konkan Railway told ThePrint that the ‘Water and Power Consultancy Services Limited (WAPCOS) study’ was being conducted to understand supply systems, which had been affected because of the tunnels.
The study would help understand how to distribute water equitably between the villagers around the Chenab River, the official added.
(Edited by Richa Mishra)
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