It will sure be a splendid experience if you get to cross the Himalayan terrain in a train passing through the longest tunnel in India – the Pir Panjal Tunnel. The 11.215 km or 7-mile-long tunnel was constructed as an Indian Government initiative to connect the state of Jammu and Kashmir with country’s rail network.
Significance of the Tunnel
The Pir Panjal tunnel is the part of the only broad gauge mountain railway service in India. The tunnel has been built through the Pir Panjal mountain range between Quazigund and Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir. It is part of Northern Railway’s 345 km stretch covering Jammu, Udhampur, Srinagar and Baramulla Railway Line.
The tunnel is 440 metre below the existing Jawahar Road Tunnel. Before the railway tunnel was built the Jawahar Road Tunnel was the only mode of transport in that stretch. In winters heavy snowfall meant the road would be blocked. It would disconnect the people of Kashmir valley from Jammu. The tunnel with its advanced construction system reduced the effect of heavy snowfall. Also, the distance between Quazigand and Banihal was reduced to 17 km which by road is 35 km. The tunnel has proven to be a boon for local Kashmiri people, who are able to commute easily now. The construction of the tunnel not only has done good for economical integration of Kashmir but it has also been beneficial in social aspects.
Construction of the Tunnel
The tunnel’s construction began in 2005 and was opened for operations in June 2013. It was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. The tunnel was built at cost of about Rs 1300 crore and the construction was undertaken by Hindustan Construction Company.
It was a tough task to build the tunnel in the mountainous terrain of the Himalayas. At various points during the construction the team had to face many challenges like falling rocks, seepage problems and softer landscape. There were also issues beyond technical problems because of the sensitive state of affairs in Kashmir. About 1300 workers and 150 engineers had worked tirelessly for 7 years for the completion of this prestigious project.
The new Austrian tunnelling method (NATM) was used for the construction of the tunnel. A tunnel excavator and road header were used for the first time in India for such a large scale project. The average elevation of the Pir Panjal tunnel is about 5770 ft and it is 1440 feet below the Jawahar Road Tunnel. The tunnel is 8.40-metre-wide and 7.39 metre in height. A 3-metre-wide road has been built along the length of the tunnel for the maintenance of the tracks and emergencies.
The tunnel is Asia’s fourth longest railway tunnel and it takes approximately 9 minutes and 30 seconds for a train to cross it.
The Pir Panjal Tunnel also known as Tunnel T-80 has State-of-the Art systems installed within it. There are CCTV cameras, fire detection and fire fighting system with fire hydrants installed within the tunnel. There is an emergency telephone for communication with control room. There are 25 fans along the tunnel for ventilation system. The tunnel walls are lined with a water proofing membrane brought from Italy, which keeps it all-weather dry.
How to travel through the tunnel
It sure will be one of the most beautiful and thrilling ride to travel by a train passing through the Pir Panjal Tunnel. A ride through the Himalayan terrain overlooking the heavenly valley of Kashmir and covering a 11.215 km of darkness can be an amazing experience. One can take the Northern Railway trains route of Srinagar-Banihal for a spellbound experience. So if you happen to go to Kashmir, do book a train ride from Srinagar to Banihal to have a once in a lifetime experience.