Infrastructure in Kashmir - Railway Project
India is undertaking one of its most challenging railway projects ever by building a line to connect Kashmir with the Himalayan foothills. Far from being an ordinary scheme, the 290km route crosses major earthquake zones, and is subjected to extreme temperatures of cold and heat, as well as inhospitable terrain.
The idea of bringing organized transport to the Kashmir Valley is nothing new. The first proposals were made in 1898 and this was followed in both 1902 and 1905 by British-led plans to reach the region by rail, including a 2ft or 2ft 6in gauge electric railway climbing to 11,000ft over the Pir Panjal Mountain Range. None of these were built.
Further proposals emerged in the mid-20th century, but it wasn’t until 1994 that Indian Railway Minister Jaffer Sharief made headway in building a line to Baramulla and the Kashmir Valley.
In 2001, the Kashmir Railway received National Project Status from the Indian Government and has seen unlimited funds provided to it. The Railway Ministry itself does not have sufficient funds to tackle a US$2.5bn project aimed for completion in August 2007. That deadline has since been put back to 2009.
The Project - Kashmir has long been separated from India by a lack of suitable transport routes. Currently the only way to reach the area is by a hairpin-road journey. The area also sparks many political debates, as Kashmiris want independence, whilst India and Pakistan are still holding talks over ruling powers.
The 290km extension of the Indian Railway network will allow a 900km (560 mile) journey direct from Delhi in India to Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
Constructing the railway route to this isolated region has involved significant engineering challenges, and although the first short section has a 2007 opening date, other major structures are two years behind.
Many bridges and tunnels are being built, including an 11km tunnel and the world’s highest railway bridge which towers above the Chenab River.
Infrastructure - The alignment for the Kashmir Railway presents one of the greatest railway engineering challenges ever faced, with the only contest coming from the recently completed China-Tibet rail route which crosses permanently frozen ground and climbs to more than 5,000m above sea level.
Whilst the temperatures of the Kashmir Railway area are not as severe as China, it does still experience extreme winters with heavy snowfalls. However, making the route even more complex is the requirement to pass through the Himalayan foothills.
The route includes many bridges, viaducts and tunnels – the lower section of the railway crosses a total of 158 bridges and passes through 20 tunnels, the longest of which is 11km (six miles) in length. The greatest single engineering challenge is the crossing of the Chenab which involves building a bridge 359m above the river bed, 1,315m long.
This bridge will be the highest railway structure of its kind in the world, 35m higher than the tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It is being project managed by the Konkan Railway Construction between Salal and Laol stations. Completion is scheduled for 2009, two years after the first isolated section of the route is due to open for local passenger services, and it requires the use of 26,000t of steel.
Even though the line is being built through a mountainous region, a ruling gradient of 1% has been set to provide a safe, smooth and reliable journey. It will be built to the Indian standard gauge of 1,676mm gauge, laid on concrete sleepers with continuous welded rail and with a minimum curve radius of 676m. Maximum line speed will be 100km/h (60mph). There will be 30 stations on the full route, served by 10–12 trains per day.
Railhead at Jammu, where a 60km access route has been built to Udhampur. The main sections of the route are between Udhampur and Qazigund – 75% in tunnels and the responsibility of Konkan Railway Construction Corporation – with the Qazigund-Baramulla section being constructed by Indian Railways.
The second section to Baramulla is due to open in 2007. However, this will remain isolated until the remaining, more challenging part of the route including the Chenab River crossing is completed in 2009.
Rolling Stock - Rolling stock for the new route will be from the existing national fleet. Both passenger and freight trains will use the new railway into and out of Kashmir. Passenger services will be provided by diesel multiple units. The service will at first be provided on a 45km section of the Qazigund-Baramulla section, running initially between Rajwansher and Anwantipora. The entire Qazigund-Baramulla section is due to open by the end of 2007.
Freight services conveying grain and petroleum products will run in between the 10–12 passengers services that are planned to operate daily.
Signaling and Communications - Three-aspect colour light signalling is being installed on the route to maintain train safety. GSM-R equipment may be installed in the future to improve the quality of the system.
The Future - The Kashmir Railway has been designated as a National Project Status, as the Indian Government is keen to improve transport into and out of the region for both parties' benefit.
The first section of the route is due to open in 2007, but it will be 2009 before a through service from central India to Kashmir is possible, due to the number of river crossings, tunnels and gorges that the railway has to cross.