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Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel
The Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel is also called the Banihal Railway Tunnel due to its proximity to Banihal Town located in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It is a boon to the people of the state as it will ultimately help to provide an all-weather rail link from the Kashmir Valley to the rest of the country. It is 11.215 km or 7 mile long tunnel on the Railway line that connects Jammu with Kashmir. The construction of this tunnel was an engineering feat as its location is high in the Middle Himalayas in the Pir Panjal Range. It is the longest railway tunnel in India and one of the most important in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Purpose of Tunnel
The most important purpose of planning this tunnel was to provide the state of Jammu and Kashmir an all-weather rail link to the rest of the country. During the winter months when there is heavy snowfall, even the road link through the Jawahar Road Tunnel to this northern state becomes inoperative.
A part of the grand rail project in the state; from Quazigund to Baramullah on which the Pir Panjal Rail Tunnel, the longest rail tunnel in India, is located has become functional since 2009. The 11 km tunnel has greatly reduced the distance between Banihal and Qauzigund by 17 kms and has made it possible to reduce the time required for travel as well.
The tunnel is built at a height of 1760 metres or 5770 feet above sea level and is below the Jawahar road tunnel by about 440 metres or 1440 feet. It is 7.4 metres tall and 8.4 metres wide. For emergency and for maintenance there is a 3 metres wide road that runs alongside the tunnel. It takes about 9 and a half minutes for a train to cross the tunnel.
About 1,500 workers mostly locals were employed in the construction of the tunnel which started in November 2005 and competed in June 2013 when the tunnel was formally opened for rail traffic. The cost of construction was Rs. 10 billion.
The project used the most advanced as well as most suitable method for the construction of the tunnel; the New Austrian Tunnelling Method or NATM. This method was the best option for the altering geological strata in the mountainous region and has been used for the first time in India for a large project like this one. Eight different geological strata have been found in this region.
The soil excavated could be compared to almost one mountain as around 1 million cubic metres of soil was excavated. The excavation was carried out by means of a tunnel excavator, road header using the drill and blast method. The maximum overburden or the height of the mountain over the tunnel is 1100 metres and minimum 400 metres.
Firstly, a 780 metres long access tunnel and a shaft of 50 metres depth were constructed. These structures will now be used for maintenance and as emergency escape routes.
Progress of the Project
Work on the Banihal-Qazigund or Pir Panjal Tunnel that connects Banihal with Qazigund area of Kashmir Valley started in 2005. The 11.215 km long tunnel has been constructed as a part of the bigger and most important project for Kashmir Railway; the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link that will connect the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India by rail.
The boring or excavation of the tunnel took four years for completion and this work was completed in October 2011. The next part; lining the tunnel and laying the rail tracks took the next one year to be completed. By December 2012, trials had commenced. The tunnel was fully ready for commission by June 2013 and was formally opened for commercial rail traffic on 27 June 2013.
The distance between Banihal and Qazigund by rail is now only 17 kms as against 35 kms by road. With the commissioning of this tunnel, the railway network in Kashmir is now 137 kms. After the completion of the 148 kms section from Katra to Banihal, Kashmir Valley will be completely connected by rail to the rest of the country.