Katra to get rail link by 2012

Jammu: Northern Railways has set a new target for the completion of vital Udhampur-Katra rail link, according to which the prestigious railway line will be completed by December 2012.

The 25.2 km rail link has been under construction since 2004 as high mountains and deep gorges slowed work and pushed deadlines.
Northern Railways Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) R K Gupta said, "considerable progress has been made on making the Udhampur-Katra railway sections operational by December next year."

India is currently constructing the US$ 4.3 billion 287-km rail line to link Kashmir valley and Udhampur-Katra section forms its first leg.
Built by Northern Railways, Udhampur-Katra section was cleared by the Cabinet committee in 1994-95 and initial deadline for completion of the project was March 2005.

Although just 25.2 kms in length, the Udhampur-Katra rail link has 29 minor bridges, 9 major bridges including 85 meter high and 154 meter single span steel girdle-bridge, first of its kind in India. The track also consists of construction of 7 tunnels with a total length of 10.90 kilometer (40 percent of total length), with the longest tunnel being 3.18 kilometers. There will be three stations on this rail link.

Problems with this tract arose as soon as the tunnels were completed. One of its main tunnels started sinking on about 800 meters and three more tunnels experienced severe water seepage problem, forcing authorities to temporarily abandon the work.

Unable to deal with the situation, Northern Railways later engaged an Austrian firm Geo Consult International (GCI) to save its hard won progress in tunneling. GCI is already involved in designing of one key railway tunnel in Pir Panchal mountains in Jammu and Kashmir, which gives it an required experience.

Under a new plan, the Railways later started constructing a diversion tunnel and worked overtime to stem the problem of water seepage.

At present three main work components remain unfinished on the track, which include completion of 1.8-kilometer long diversion of Tunnel No.1, de-watering arrangements in Tunnel No.3 and laying of ballasts.

"The ballasts works will be completed by December 2011, whereas works relating to Tunnel No.1 and Tunnel No.3 would be completed by March-April 2012 and with the completion of other works, the section would have trains running by December 2012 ", Gupta said. Modern technology and geographical studies are being utilized to make these tunnels viable and dependable.

Katra town in Reasi district of Jamumu and Kashmir is the base camp for pilgrims to Vaishno Devi shrine, one of the holiest shrines for Hindus in India. More than ten million devotees pay obeisance every year at the shrine. Currently it is only linked by roadways and a distant airport at Jammu city. With the inauguration of Udhampur-Katra rail link, pilgrims will be able to travel directly to Katra giving a boost to local economy and providing comfortable transport facility to visiting pilgrims.

Haroon Mirani