Soaring above the riverbed of the ancient Chenab, the railway bridge in Jammu and Kashmir’s Reasi district will stand taller than the iconic Eiffel Tower by 30 metres.
Also, at an elevation of 359 metres, it will be the world’s highest railway bridge once completed.
With the launch of the bridge’s main arch this week, the mega-scale endeavour spanning across one of the toughest terrains in the world is slowly inching towards becoming a reality.
“We have begun the work on installations of the main arch between two sides of the bridge. We have launched the main- arch,” said M K Gupta, Member Engineering, Railway Board, reports Economic Times.
What makes the bridge significant is that it will facilitate direct connectivity into the Kashmir Valley, which remains sparsely connected by the railways when compared to rest of the country.
However, the ambitious project rail project goes all the way back to the 2000s when the need for better rail connectivity in the Himalayan state was observed by policymakers. Declared as a national project by the then railway ministry, the project, unfortunately, was put on halt in 2008, with the authorities citing fear over the stability of the bridge and safety of passengers due to frequent high-velocity winds in the area.
Fast-forward 2017, the Indian Railways has equipped itself technically and technologically to put the project back on track. The gargantuan responsibility of erecting the colossal structure is being undertaken by Konkan Railways in collaboration with AFCONS Infrastructure Limited on a mega budget of ₹1,250 crore.
Part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project, the 1.3km long steel and concrete arch bridge plays the crucial role of being the only link in the 111-km stretch between Katra and Baniha.
The construction of the bridge is not just any regular railway undertaking. Building a bridge that can carry heavy freight across a gorge requires the kind of reinforcement that can defy gravity and even withstand earthquakes.
A magnanimous arrangement of cable crane spanning across 915 metres, which is believed to be world’s longest, has been entailed to carry heavyweight segments from either end of the bridge.
As many as 1,300 workers and 300 engineers are part of the dedicated workforce who have been working round-the-clock on the site.
According to the concerned authorities, the project was chalked down following in-depth research on areas like geophysics, seismic studies and slope stability. Many national and international consultants were also roped in for inference during various stages of the project.
While the construction work is being carried forth on both sides simultaneously, raising the main arch was a task in itself. An arrangement of high endurance pylons installed on both sides of the river along with two auxiliary self-propelled cable cranes was used to tow temporary auxiliary ropes across the pylons.
An engineer who is part of the project explained that these ropes were used to support the partly finished arch parts as both the embankments of Chenab have hard cherty dolomite and quartzite forming cliffs.
Interestingly, the launch has been performed in a typical manner of serial increment. This way additional sections can be fixed to the rear of the superstructure unit following subsequent launches.
Massive workshops have been commissioned at both ends of the bridge that will undertake fabrication of steel structure. Alongside, three huge tunnels of varying lengths are being constructed by the Railways on the other side of Chenab.
With a lifespan of 120 years, the iconic bridge will be able to withstand high-velocity winds up to 260 km per hour, a remarkable achievement indeed.
Expected to be completed by May 2019, we hope that the project will soon flag off rail operations and enable better connectivity in the region.