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India’s longest railway tunnel: An engineering marvel that will connect Srinagar with rest of country

May 9, 2024

Srinagar: Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel, also known as the Banihal-Qazigund Railway Tunnel, is India’s longest railway tunnel, measuring an impressive 11.21 kilometers in length.

It is an engineering marvel, constructed through the tough terrain of the Pir Panjal mountain range in Jammu and Kashmir. Construction of the Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel began in November 2005 and was completed in June 2013. The project significantly improved connectivity to Kashmir, The Economic Times reported

The primary purpose of the tunnel’s construction was to provide an all-weather route for trains on the Banihal-Baramulla section of the Kashmir Valley line. Previously, heavy snowfall during winter would disrupt train services in the region for months. The Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel offered a solution, allowing trains to pass through the mountains regardless of the weather conditions.

The Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel stands as a remarkable feat of engineering, showcasing India’s capability in undertaking and completing large-scale infrastructure projects. It serves as a vital transportation link in the region and plays a crucial role in the economic development of Kashmir. An estimated one million cubic meters of material was excavated to create the tunnel. This process involved utilizing advanced machinery like tunnel boring machines, road headers, and traditional drill and blast techniques.

The Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel was the first major project in India to employ the New Austrian Tunneling Method (NATM) for construction. This method is particularly suitable for constructing tunnels through geologically challenging areas, like the Pir Panjal mountains with varying rock strata. NATM involves rock support being installed systematically as excavation progresses, ensuring stability and safety throughout the construction process.

The Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel is equipped with modern safety and efficiency features. An emergency escape passage and a ventilation system run along the entire length of the tunnel, ensuring passenger and crew safety in case of emergencies. The tunnel is also designed to handle bi-directional train traffic.

The tunnel is a part of the 272-km Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Railway Line (USBRL) project. The first phase of the 118-km Qazigund-Baramulla section was commissioned in October 2009, followed by the 18-km Banihal-Qazigund in June 2013 and the 25-km Udhampur-Katra in July 2014.

 USBRL is a national project that will connect Kashmir Valley with the rest of the country through an all-weather railway network. The total length of the USBRL is 272 km. Of which 161 km has already been commissioned, while work is in progress on the 111-km-long Katra-Banihal stretch. The Katra-Banihal section comprises 27 main tunnels and 8 escape tunnels. Around 87% out of 111 km of the section is covered in tunnels.

Maharaja Pratap Singh had dreamed of the Kashmir rail project in 1898.  A project was sanctioned in 1905 but it could not be implemented.  After independence, Jammu was connected with the rest of India by rail. Indira Gandhi started work on the difficult Chenab section (which included Kashmir) in 1983.

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