Centre proposes shorter, safer alignment for train to Kashmir

The Railways Ministry headed by Suresh Prabhu has, in principle, agreed to the new alignment of Katra-Banihal railway section, proposed by high level Committee headed by Delhi Metro architect E Sreedharan and would shortly be making formal announcement of start of the work at the cost of Rs 11,000 crores after shelving the existing alignment, which was scheduled to cost Rs 21,100 crores.

Official sources told the Excelsior that the new alignment from Katra to Banihal, which would connect the Kashmir valley with rail line with rest of the country, has been discussed in detail by the Union Railways Minister with top officials of the Railways especially those dealing with the project and representatives from Jammu and Kashmir and it has been formally agreed upon that the new alignment proposed by the four members Sreedharan Committee would be feasible and practical in construction taking into consideration the cost, safety, durability and security factors, which were of foremost concerns for the Railways.

“A formal announcement for start of work on new alignment was expected to be made soon in New Delhi,” sources said.
Railways Chief Engineer Alok Verma has designed the new alignment. He was among four members Committee headed by Sreedharan.

According to sources, as against 126 kilometers rail track length between Katra to Banihal, the proposed alignment would be only 67 to 70 kilometers and would have just eight tunnels and seven bridges as against 64 tunnels and 96 bridges proposed in the existing alignment. Exposure to the Fault Line will be just 5 per cent in new alignment as against 60 per cent in the existing.

The Committee has reduced height of largest railway bridge, which was scheduled to be constructed over river Chenab near Dharam, Gool in Ramban district to 120 meters in new alignment as against 359 meters in the existing alignment.

“The cost factor has also been significantly reduced in the new alignment to nearly half from the existing alignment. While existing rail length of 126 kilometers from Katra to Banihal was scheduled to cost Rs 21,100 crores, the new alignment would cost Rs 11,000 crores only,” sources said.

The railway link is completed from Jammu to Katra and Banihal to Baramulla. However, Katra-Banihal link, which would connect the Kashmir valley with rail with rest of the nation, has become tough task for the Railways as the line would run through rugged mountains and treacherous track, which was filled with high security risk, both in terms of maintenance of track and militancy angle.

According to sources, Sreedharan Committee, whose recommendations have been agreed by the Railways Ministry, in principle, has pointed out that any damage caused to highest bridge over Chenab in existing alignment could take eight months to four years for repair, leading to blockade of train services to the Valley for a very long period. However, no such fears have been expressed in the existing alignment.

The alternative alignment, according to sources, is a shorter and straighter alignment cutting through the mountain ranges and was superior on considerations of constructability, stability, survivability, safety in train operations, quick and easy evacuation of passengers from tunnels, saving travel time and having more capacity.

It may be mentioned here that the Sreedharan committee had said that if “the present pattern and style of implementation is followed”, the project already delayed by eight years, would not be completed “by any stretch of imagination” in another eight years. It said that “if the Government wants to complete the project early, the present system and style of construction management will have to be changed and new existing line adopted”.

Accordingly, the committee recommended that the execution of the new alignment be “entrusted to a dedicated, fully government-owned company” which can take decisions on its own without any reference to the Railway Board.

The unviability of the mega-arch is a major reason why the Katra-Banihal section, originally due to be executed by 2007, is nowhere near completion even after Rs 4,000 crore has so far been spent. The committee had, therefore, recommended the scrapping of the present alignment.