Jammu, Aug 16: More than 75 per cent of the total 37 bridges and 97.6 per cent tunnelling work on the vital Katra-Banihal railway link stands completed, officials of the northern railways said, expressing hope that Kashmir will be connected to rest of the country via train next year.
The Katra-Banihal stretch is part of the prestigious Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) Project which has missed several deadlines in the past amid huge cost escalations since 1997, when the then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda laid its foundation at Udhampur.
In view of the importance of the USBRL project in providing seamless and hassle-free connectivity, the 272-Km-long railway line project was declared as a 'national project' in 2002.
While the 161 km was commissioned in phases with first phase 118-km Qazigund-Baramulla section commissioned in October 2009 followed by 18-km Banihal-Qazigund in June 2013 and 25-km Udhampur-Katra in July 2014.
"The intervening stretch of the Katra-Banihal section (111 km) is in progress. This is, perhaps, the most difficult new railway line project undertaken in the Indian subcontinent. This section predominantly involves tunnelling of 164 Km (97.57 km main tunnel and 66.4 km of escape tunnel), in addition to construction of 37 bridges on Chenab river and its tributary Anji Khad," an official said.
At present, he said 160.52 Km of tunnelling (95.47 km of main tunnel and 65.05 km of escape tunnel) and 28 bridges, out of total 37 have been completed, the official said.
He said the work on the project is going on in full swing and "we are hopeful about commissioning the final phase to connect Kashmir with the rest of the country next year."
Referring to the completion of the overarch deck of Chenab railway bridge in Reasi district with the laying of the 'golden joint' on August 13 as a milestone, the official said the "minor" works on the nearly 1.3 km bridge is expected to be completed by November this year.
The paradigmatic bridge is located 359 m above the Chenab riverbed in Kauri village and is 30 m higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Once completed, the bridge will be able to withstand winds with speed up to 260 kmph and will have a lifespan of 120 years, the official said.
The project has other firsts like the longest railway tunnel having overall length of 12.75 km situated between Sumber and Arpinchala in Sangaldan area of Ramban district which has been made through on February 15 and first cable-stayed bridge which when completed would be an engineering marvel of 21st century.
In addition, the official said a 205-Km access road has also been completed which provides connectivity to far flung and inaccessible remote areas, leading to socio-economic development of the local residents.
The cumulative expenditure on Katra-Banihal section up to June is Rs 23,071 crore, he said. The officials said the electrification work on the railway line from Banihal to Baramulla is in progress and is likely to be completed by October.