Officially termed the Jammu Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Railway Link, the railway line starts from Jammu and will travel for 345 km (214 mi) to Baramulla on the northwestern edge of the Kashmir Valley.
Forming a part of Firozpur division of the Northern Railway zone, the line has been under construction since 1983 by various railway companies. It will link the state’s winter capital, Jammu, with the summer capital, Srinagar, and beyond. The project has had a long and chequered history but serious progress was made only after it was declared a National Project in 2002.
The route includes many bridges, viaducts and tunnels. The railway is expected to cross a total of over 750 bridges and pass through over 100 km of tunnels, the longest of which is 11.215 km in length.The greatest engineering challenges involve the crossing of the Chenab river, which involves building a 1,315 m (4,314 ft) long bridge 359 m (1,178 ft) above the river bed, and the crossing of the Anji Khad, which involves building a 657 m (2,156 ft) long bridge 186 m (610 ft) above the river bed. The Chenab Bridge will be the highest railway structure of its kind in the world, 35 m higher than the tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
On 13 April 2005 the 53 km long Jammu-Udhampur line was inaugurated, 21 years and ₹5.15 billion after its commencement, marking the completion of “Leg 0”. The line had 20 major tunnels and 158 bridges. Its longest tunnel was 2.5 km and its highest bridge was 77 m (253 ft) – the highest railway bridge in India. This is in the relatively easy Shivalik Hills.
On 11 October 2008 the first isolated section of 66 km between Manzhama and Anantnag on Leg 3 inaugurated, 14 months behind schedule. On 14 February 2009 the train service on Leg 3 was extended to Baramulla and on 28 October 2009 the 18 km long section from Anantnag to Qazigund was inaugurated by the prime minister marking the completion of Leg 3. IRCON, a Public Sector railway construction company was in charge of this section.
On 4 July 2014 the train journey on Udhampur-Katra line was officially inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This marked the completion of Leg 1. The route includes 7 tunnels and 30 small and big bridges. Indian Railways was in charge of the Udhampur-Katra Section (25 km).
A 18 km stretch of Leg 2 between Quazigund and Banihal was commissioned on 26 June 2013.The stretch of 18 km includes a 11.215 km long Pir Panjal railway tunnel, also known as Banihal railway tunnel is India’s longest and Asia’s sixth longest railway tunnel . The tunnel is 8.40 m wide with a height of 7.39 m. The tunnel includes a three-metre wide service road along the length of the tunnel for maintenance of railway tracks and emergency relief. The tunnel’s average elevation at 1,760 m (5,770 ft) is 440 m (1,440 ft) below the existing road tunnel. Banihal railway station is situated at 1,702 m (5,584 ft) above mean sea level. HCC constructed it for approx US$120 million.
Leg 2 is under construction and is not likely to be completed before 2019-20.Construction has been plagued by technical difficulties over the choice of alignment and disputes with contractors. This is the most difficult section of the rail line, with 62 bridges and multiple tunnels with a cumulative total length of 10 km out of total 129 km. It also requires laying of 262 km of access roads connecting 147,000 people in 73 villages. In July 2008, the work in some section of the Katra-Banihal section was suspended for considering a realignment. The alternative alignment proposed by the railway reduced the length of track from 126 km to 67 km. The expert committee appointed by the railway board has recommended to abandon 93 km of the previously approved alignment. On 12 November 2014, Delhi high court directed the Central Government to constitute a committee to review the 126 km long section of the rail link. On 27 April 2016 High court disposed off the case after an affidavit filed by the Railway Board said that “after due consideration/examination of the Report of the ex-DMRC chief E Sreedharan Committee, the Board was fully satisfied”.
Supreme Court on 14th July 2016 refused to entertain a plea alleging that the railways were ignoring serious safety concerns raised by the experts regarding the 125-km-long Katra-Banihal section of the rail link to Kashmir and sought realignment of the project. The plea said that Railway Board did not place before an expert panel, headed by Sreedharan to review the current alignment of rail link, an interim report of an agency which had also examined the feasibility of an alternate alignment.
The Railway Board summarily rejected the idea of a new alignment, claiming that the existing alignment is “a well-researched, well-investigated line where work is progressing successfully without any mishaps or problems” and then calling the new alignment as advocated by Sreedharan as only a “paper alignment”.
Konkan Railway Corporation Limited is in charge of the Katra-Laole Section (90 km) in this section and rest in under IRCON.
Leg 2 also involves “Chenab Bridge”. railway steel arch bridge under construction between Bakkal and Kauri in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir in India. When finished, the bridge will span the Chenab River at a height of 359 m (1,178 ft) above the river, making it the world’s highest rail bridge.
The Chenab Bridge was originally intended to be completed in December 2009. However, in September 2008 the project was halted due to fears over the bridge’s stability and safety.The construction has been contracted to Afcons Infrastructure Limited, a part of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, the third-largest construction group in India.
Another important bridge is Anji Khad bridge which is being built upstream on Chenab river at an estimated cost of Rs 458 crore. The structure will be 196 metres high, with a span of around 290 metres. The modified plan for the bridge will be implemented from 2016 and is expected to be completed in 3 years.
The work at present faces no legal bottlenecks but will not be completed before 2020 even in most optimistic case.