Srinagar: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday will inaugurate the 11-km Pir Panjal rail tunnel in Banihal. The tunnel has been constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 1,300 crore and taken almost seven years to complete. It will reduce the distance between the Banihal-Qazigund section from 35 km (by road) to 18 km.
It is believed to be India's longest and Asia's second longest tunnel. The 8-coach train will be flagged of later on Wednesday. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi will attend the event.
This rail section is very significant as it will provide an all-weather link to Kashmir Valley which often gets cut off from the rest of the country due to snowfall during winters.
Currently, problems are being faced by passengers travelling between Banihal and Qazigund due to closure of Jawahar Tunnel in winter due to heavy snowfall. Last winter, only one-way vehicular movement was allowed between Jammu and Srinagar on national highway. There were sudden closures for almost four months from December 2012 to March this year due to heavy snowfall and slippery conditions.
The tunnel has been constructed using New Austrian Tunnelling Method, which has been used for the first time on such a large scale in India. This method optimises the tunnel design by mobilising the inherent ground strength in adopting a curved section, providing primary support system immediately after excavation and monitoring the ground behaviour while permitting it to develop its inherent strength.
A three-meter wide road has been provided inside the tunnel for maintenance and emergency rescue and relief operations. The tunnel has been made water-proof by providing continuous PVC membrane between primary and secondary lining.
It has also been equipped with the state-of-the-art air quality monitoring system, ventilation system, communication system, fire fighting system and emergency rescue system.
(With Additional Information From PTI)