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Construction of the route faced natural challenges including major earthquake zones, extreme temperatures and inhospitable terrain. The project has had a long and chequered history, and serious progress was made only after it was declared a National Project of India in 2002. Although its scheduled completion date was 15 August 2007, unforeseen complications have pushed back the date several times. The sections from Jammu to Katra and Banihal to Baramulla have been built and are operational. The track from Katra to Banihal is to be completed by 2020.. In Nov 2018: Central Government Approves extension of Railway line upto Kupwara.
1902: Britain proposes a rail link following the Jhelum River, connecting Srinagar to Rawalpindi. The proposal is politically unpopular in the Maharaja's court, since most of the state's population centers are strung along the more-southerly Moghul road connecting Jammu and Srinagar.
1905: Britain again proposes a link between Rawalpindi and Srinagar. Maharaja Pratap Singh approves a rail line between Jammu and Srinagar via Reasi and the Moghul road. The line would have had or -gauge rail, climbing to the Moghul road pass at 11,000 feet (3,353 m) over the Pir Panjal Range (compare the present-day Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel's average elevation of 1,760 metres (5,770 ft)). The electric line would have used mountain streams as a source of hydro-electric power. The narrow gauge and high-altitude pass would have made the line weather-dependent and restricted its speed and capacity, similar to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. However, this line was never built.
1971: The foundation stone is laid and construction commences for a railway line linking Jammu to Pathankot and thereby to the Indian rail network. The imminent Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 may have given an impetus to this long-neglected project.
1975: The rail link between Jammu and Pathankot is established and the renovated Jammu Tawi railway station is opened. It will remain the northern end of the line (and the Indian Rail Network) for the next thirty years.
1983: Construction of a railway line from Jammu Tawi to Udhampur (northward of Jammu) begins, with an optimistic schedule of five years and a budget of (US$7.0 million). In fact, it will take 21 years and cost (US$72.2 million) to build the 53 km line through mountainous terrain. A proposed extension to Srinagar is dismissed as economically unfeasible after a cursory, preliminary survey of the Pir Panjal Range.
1994: The railway minister declares the need for a rail line to Baramulla, well beyond even Srinagar, and it is learned that the proposed line will begin from Qazigund and run to Srinagar and then onwards to Baramulla. This means that there will be two disconnected stretches of track within the state, and that the proposed new line, which will service only the Kashmir valley, will not connect to the national network. The reason for this is that laying a railway line from either Katra or Udhampur to Qazigund through the mountains still appears unattainable.
2002: Little progress has been achieved since 1994 on the proposed "Valley" line (later known as "Leg 3"), mainly due to militancy and unrest. The government of India declares the railway line a national project, funded entirely by the central government. It also states that an unbroken rail link is imperative, and that they will spend whatever money is required and provide all required environmental or other clearances to establish a rail link from Katra to Qazigund, and onwards through Srinagar to Baramulla. The estimated cost is now (US$841.2 million).
2005: The 53 km long Jammu-Udhampur section finally opens, 21 years and (US$72.2 million) after its beginning, the line's Leg 0. The line, which cuts through the Shivalik Hills, has 20 major tunnels and 158 bridges. Its longest tunnel is 2.5 km in length and its highest bridge is 77 m (253 ft) (India's highest railway bridge).
2008: The Ministry of Railways cancels the project on the existing alignment between Katra and Qazigund due to suspected geological instability, ordering Konkan Railway (which had been tasked with the project) to stop all work on the section (including the Chenab Bridge) and terminate all contracts issued for work on the section before major route changes. The Railway Board appoints a committee to examine the feasibility of the project's Leg 2 and rework the Pir Panjal Range route, proposing a fresh survey for a shorter line.
2008: The 66 km section between Anantnag and Manzhama (Mazhom near Pattan, outside Srinagar) opens on 11 October 2008, with twice-daily service in both directions. Complications continue to affect the project for connection with the plain.
2009: On 14 February 2009, Leg 3 service is extended beyond Mazhom/Pattan to Baramulla. An extension of the track from Baramulla to Kupwara had been proposed, and its survey was completed in 2009, but the proposal is kept in abeyance for the time being. On 29 October the same year (2009), the 18 km-long section from Anantnag to Qazigund is inaugurated by the prime minister, marking the completion of Leg 3. This means that the entire "Valley" portion of the line, from Qazigund to Baramulla, as proposed in 1994, is now operational, but it remains disconnected from the national railway network. Meanwhile, in June 2009, work on the section between Katra and Qazigund had resumed after the committee approved the existing alignment with only minor changes. Additional geotechnical tests of rock strata and changes to other portions of the alignment would be reviewed.
2010: In December, Indian Railways completes a crucial tunnel in Sangaldam on the route between Katra and Banihal (on the Katra-Banihal-Qazigund section).
2011-12: Boring of the 11.215 km (7-mile) long Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel, known informally as the Banihal-Qazigund tunnel, is completed in October 2011. This was a crucial and extremely challenging project and its completion is hailed as an achievement. Tracks are laid during the following year, and a trial run begins on 28 December 2012. This means the line northward from Banihal (to Qazigund and on to Baramulla) is ready, but not the southward stretch towards the rest of India. Eight years after the contract to design and build the world's tallest rail bridge was awarded to Afcons Infrastructure Limited, excavation of the foundations of the 1,315-metre-long (4,314 ft) bridge across the Chenab River begins. The construction of all tunnels between Udhampur and Katra, including the T1 Tunnel which had seepage problem, was completed.
2014: On 11 June, a trial train from Delhi arrives in anticipation of the opening of the Udhampur-Katra line, which will connect Katra to the rest of the country. On 4 July, the Udhampur-Katra line is opened and the Katra railway station is inaugurated. Commercial railway services now exist from the rest of India up to Katra, and also from Banihal all the way north to Baramulla, but the stretch from Katra to Banihal, an extremely challenging stretch, as described below, remains unfinished.
2018: On 08 November 2018, the Central Government approves extension of railway line from Baramulla to Kupwara. It may be recollected that the project had been proposed in the mid-2000s and a survey had been carried out in 2009.
2019: Status as of July 2019 is as follows. All portions of the track are ready except from the link between Katra and Banihal. This stretch of track is no more than 111 km long, but as much as 97.34 km of this is made up of tunnels. There are also to be 27 major bridges and 10 minor bridges. Among these bridges will be one built across the deep gorge of the Chenab river near the Salal hydro-electric dam. This bridge of steel arches, 1315 meters long, will stand at a heingt of 359 meters from the ground, which is 35 meters more than the height of the Eiffel tower. The project, which also encompasses 203 km of access roads, is expected to be ready by 2021.
The railway line is divided into four sections:
Leg 0, running 53 km from Jammu to Udhampur and completed in April 2005.
Leg 1, running 25 km from Udhampur to Katra. The section was dedicated on 4 July 2014
Leg 2, running 111 km from Katra to Banihal. Under construction, it may open in 2021.
Leg 3 running 135 km from Banihal to Baramulla. The final stretch of this leg, the Qazigund-Banihal rail link was dedicated to the nation by prime minister Manmohan Singh on 26th June 2013.
Leg 1 has been operational since July 2014. The leg had missed opening dates in the past, including December 2005, December 2006 and May 2009. Work on the section, suspended for two years due to a partial tunnel collapse, resumed in September 2009. Although the section was planned to open by 2 February 2014, passenger service was delayed due to Commission of Railway Safety concerns about one bridge and tunnel. The route includes seven tunnels and 30 bridges. The section was dedicated to the nation on 4 July 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Leg 2, running 111 km from Katra to Banihal is under construction, may be completed in 2021. Construction on the leg has been beset by technical difficulties with alignment and disputes with contractors, and was originally expected to be finished in 2017-18. This is the line's most difficult section of the rail line, with 62 bridges and a number of tunnels totalling 10 km out of total 129 km. It requires 262 km of access roads connecting 147,000 people in 73 villages; 160 km, connecting 29 villages, is completed. In July 2008, work on part of the Katra-Banihal section was suspended for a possible realignment. The alternative alignment, proposed by the railway, reduced the track length from 126 km to 67 km. A committee appointed by the Railway Board recommended abandoning 93 km of the previously-approved alignment. On 12 November 2014, the Delhi High Court directed the central government to appoint a committee to review the 126 km-long section.
An 18 km stretch of Leg 2, between Quazigund and Banihal, was authorised on 26 June 2013. The stretch includes the 11.215-km (7-mile) Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel, also known as the Banihal railway tunnel. India's longest rail tunnel, it is 8.4 m wide and 7.39 m high. The tunnel includes a 3 m-wide service road for maintenance and emergency use. Its average elevation, 1760 m, is 440 m below the existing road tunnel.
The tunnel facilitates transportation during winter (when inclement weather closes the Srinagar-Jammu highway), and halves the distance between Quazigund and Banihal (35 km by road and 17.5 km by train). The Banihal railway station is 1,702 m (5,584 ft) above mean sea level, and trains run from Banihal to Qazigund through the tunnel. The 5 km Banganga section was expected to be operational before the completion date of 2017-18 for the entire project.
Status update of under construction 148 km route from Katra to Banihal.
Oct 2018: work on Chenab Bridge have stopped due to difference of opinion between contractor and railway staff.
Dec 2018: Rail line described as likely to miss 2020 deadline.
Aug 2019: New target period for completion is 2021-22.
Leg 3 has been operational since October 2009. The line from Baramulla to Banihal, across the Pir Panjal Range, is 130 km long. Since the 25 km-long Udhampur-Katra section was commissioned in October 2013, only the 148 km Katra-Banihal section of Leg 2 remains to be constructed. Until the Katra-Laole section of railway is finished by 2020, travel from Jammu Tawi (or Udhampur) to Banihal by road and from Banihal to Srinagar by rail is possible.
Nov 2018: Central Government have approved extension of Railway line upto Kupwara.
Infrastructure and construction
Rail bridge in Banihal
The line may be the most difficult rail project undertaken on the Indian subcontinent. The young Himalayas are geologically surprising and problematic. The track's alignment presents one of the greatest railway engineering challenges ever faced; only Tibet's Qingzang Railway, completed in 2006 across permafrost and climbing to over 5,000 m (16,000 ft) above sea level, is comparable. Although the Indian temperatures are less severe, the region experiences harsh winters with heavy snowfall. In the Pir Panjal Range, most peaks exceed 15,000 ft (4,600 m) in height.
The route includes many bridges, viaducts and tunnels. The railway is expected to cross over 750 bridges and pass through over 100 km (62 mi) of tunnels, the longest of which is 11,215 m (6.969 mi). Engineering challenges include crossing the Chenab River river on a 1,315-metre-long (4,314 ft) bridge 359 m (1,178 ft) above the riverbed and crossing the Anji Khad on a 657-metre-long (2,156 ft) bridge 186 m (610 ft) above the riverbed. The Chenab Bridge will be the highest railway structure of its kind in the world, 35 metres (115 ft) higher than the top of the Eiffel Tower. Both bridges will be simple. Weathering steel is planned for an environmentally-friendly appearance and to eliminate the need for painting. The design and structure is similar to West Virginia's New River Gorge Bridge. The project is managed by the Konkan Railway Corporation. Completion was scheduled for 2012 (four years after the first isolated section of the route was opened for local passenger service), and it requires 26,000 tonnes of steel.
Rounding a curve in Qazigund
All tunnels are built with the New Austrian tunnelling method, and a number of challenges have been encountered while tunnelling through the geologically-young, unstable Sivalik Hills. In particular, water entered the Udhampur-to-Katra section; this required drastic solutions with steel arches and several feet of shotcrete. Along with shotcrete , lattice girder support were provided according to different class of rocks found along the entire terrain of mountains in the proposed project.
Although the rail line is being built through a mountainous region, a one-percent ruling gradient has been set to provide a safe, smooth, reliable journey. Bank engines will not be required, making the journey quicker and smoother. It will use Indian broad gauge continuous welded rail laid on concrete sleepers, with a minimum curve radius of 676 m. The maximum speed will be 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph). Provision for future doubling will be made on major bridges. Provisions for future electrification will also be made, although the rail line will use diesel locomotives initially; the region is presently electricity-scarce. There will be 30 stations on the route, initially served by 10-12 trains per day.
Passenger service will be provided by high-power diesel multiple units and heated, air-conditioned coaches have wide windows, sliding doors and reclining seats. The driver's cabin has a heating and defogging unit, and is fitted with a one-piece glass window for a wider view. A snow-cutting cattle guard is attached to the front of the train to clear snow from the tracks during winter. Due to the valley's cold climate, the 1,400-horsepower diesel engine has a heating system for quick, trouble-free starts. Coaches have a public-information system (display and announcements) and a pneumaticsuspension for riding comfort. There is a compartment for the physically disabled, with wider doors.
Freight rolling stock for the route will come from the existing national fleet. Freight service (grain and petroleum products) will run between the 10-12 daily passenger trains. Maintenance will be done at the Badgam workshop, north of Srinagar. Three-aspect colour-light signalling is being installed on the route for safety, and GSM-R equipment may be installed in the future to improve its quality.
The rail line's security has been a major concern as it passes through areas with political unrest.Closed-circuit television cameras at major bridges, tunnels and stations are planned, and all major bridges and tunnels are illuminated.
June 2004 - Ircon International engineer Sudhir Kumar Pundir and his brother Sanjay were kidnapped and murdered by unidentified assailants, possibly for ransom, in Zainapora, Pulwama.
June 2005 - Altaf Hussain, a Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) labourer, was killed by a tunnel collapse in Tathyar; two others were injured.
16 May 2007 - Two girls, ages nine and seven, drowned in a rail company ditch.
14 Feb 2008 - A Nepali labourer Tika Ram Balwari was killed after being struck by a boulder in Uri Varmul.
18 Apr 2008 - Six labourers in the Katra-Qazigund project were killed and two others were injured when the dump truck in which they were riding rolled into a deep gorge in Lower Juda Morh (near Kouri in Reasi district) late at night.
27 Mar 2011 - Two workers, Abdul Rahman (age 34) and Jumma Baksh (24), were killed at a railway bridge under construction over the Chenab River in Reasi district when the basket in which they were riding (attached to a crane) unhooked and fell over 100 metres.
When completed, the 359m tall bridge over the River Chenab will be the tallest railway bridge in the world. It will be 1315m long with stations at both ends. Sensors will be installed on the bridge to check wind velocity. In case, the wind speed exceeds 90 Kmph, the signal on the railway track will turn red and train movements will be stopped. The bridge is designed to withstand winds up to 260 Kmph. Its lifespan will be 120 years.