Gulmarg Gandola Accident

Was it an act of God or the result of negligence?

Er. Idrees ul Haq Beigh
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jul 2 2017 10:49PM | Updated Date: Jul 2 2017 10:49PM
Gulmarg Gandola AccidentFile Photo

Gulmarg Gondola, which is Asia's highest and longest cable car project, was taken up for execution by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir through Department of Tourism (Phase-I and Phase-II) in 1987. The work for supply, erection, installation and commissioning was awarded to the French Company, namely, M/S Pomagalski of France in the year 1988, the Government of J&K established J&K State Cable Car Corporation under the Companies Act, 1956 with an authorized capital of Rs. 2500.00 lacs

The Gulmarg Gondola Project is one of the highest and largest ropeways in Asia having a total aerial distance of 5 kms. (approx.) The Jammu and Kashmir State Cable Car Corporation (JKSCCC) has earned crores of Rupees since its inception, thus proving to be the major backbone of the tourism industry of not only valley but to the whole state.

The first stage transfers from the Gulmarg resort at 2,600 m (8,530 ft) to Kongdoori Station in the bowl-shaped Kongdori valley with more than 30  gondola cabins in about 12 minutes & The second stage of the ropeway, takes to  Afarwat Peak [4,200 m (13,780 ft)] from the Kongdoori station with more than 20 gondola cabins  in about 17 minutes approximately .

The Gondola Project primarily consists of Bull wheel, cable, cabins and the pylons (Towers) . It is mandatory to understand that it is the cable and not the cabin that moves thus makes the gondola ride possible; the cabins are attached and detached to the cable through grip system accordingly for ascending and descending journeys at the stations. The cabins are aerodynamic Laminated polyster glass fibre synthetic resin pantographed Structures (Automatic Opening and Closing mechanism), with Plexiglas windscreen of thickness 4 mm in accordance with the aviation cockpit technique  attached to the metal framework that transmit mechanical stresses to the frame work and avoid any stress to the shells (Cabins) while ensuring the correct functioning of emergency exit, of the passenger anti pinching device and shell positioning stability.

The towers which carries the sheave assembly (of Diameter 450 and 550)  with extruded and molded rubber, and with a groove to protect twist and turning of the cable helps in the line hoisting  and normal operation of the cable car project. The towers also has a cable catcher, which protects the cable to get off track during cable swings, Speedy winds or any other factor. The cable is moved with the help of Power driven bull wheel, with automatic relay based monitoring units using programmable logic controllers.

The topography which hosts Gulmarg cable car project consists of  Huge Pines along the hoisted line (course of station connections). As a Standard Operating procedure, either the tree line coinciding the hoist line of cable should have been fully guyed or cut down. Since the forest which is considered as gold of nation can’t be loosed so the guying of trees along the cable transmission was the only possible solution. Although a huge chunk of forest ( Under Forest Department) has been cleared in the past on the excuse of the safe cable car operation under political pressure to profit forest mafia but a large number of huge pine trees still reside intact. Certainly some trees have been guyed but there are trees that are yet to be guyed and could prove fatal for cable car operations in near future. It is purely a case of  negligence not of J&K State Cable car corporation but of J&K State Forest Department that killed seven people after they were violently flung from the cable car  due to Cable hit by a pine tree under the influence of high speed wind and thus can’t be endorsed to the “Act of God” as the clearance for the Tree Guying is under the ambit of J&K State Forest Department.

I am of the opinion that Gulmarg Gondola is fully safe and  this is not any mechanical, electrical or any other related engineering fault that resulted in the human loss. It would be inappropriate to call that SOPs were not followed at Gulmarg cable car project. During the High speed winds, the cable is driven at a speed of not more than 2-2.5 m/s and the system will automatically stop until bypassed to clear the line which is of course to be hit upon by the already setup enquiry commission whose results will take years to come public. There is a huge scope for future to minimize such tragedies by innovative methods like to incorporate anti crash system  (Air balloons) for the cabins that could minimize the damage, also the cabins should be properly connected via a wireless system to the stations for the two way communication. Most Importantly the defunct weather station at Kongdoori Gulmarg should be re-opened, well operated in synchronization with the Cable Car project.

The author is an Ex- Engineer of  J&K State Cable Car project (Gulmarg Gondola).   

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