By K.N. Pandita
Jammu and Kashmir State will have the honour of being home to the world’s tallest railway bridge across river Chenab with the highest point of 360 meter as against the 343 meter highest point of world’s existing highest road bridge (Millau Bridge). The total length of the bridge will be 1315 meter and height from river bed to top of bridge 360 meter. The main arch span (steel structure) will be 480 meter. It will be one of the wonders of highly advanced technology of bridge building carried out with indigenous expertise and workmanship. The bridge will link Udhampur/Katra railway line with Baramulla in the valley. With its completion, approximately four years from now, the Valley of Kashmir will begin to write a totally new and unprecedented history.
The landlocked valley that remained isolated from the outside world for millennia after millennia, and suffered on its own during the course of history, will break the jinx at long lost and become well connected part of the civilized world. Its economy, hitherto hanging by slender thread and mostly dependent being a deficit state, can take a big turn with the secure overland link to be provided by the railway. Rail link will seal the fate of Kashmir for all times to come as an integral part of the Indian Union. In that sense a great and golden era awaits the valley depending on how wisely and sensibly its leadership utilizes the opportunity.
This rail link attains extraordinary strategic importance since it will provide dependable and uninterrupted connectivity to India’s critical northern border that meets with the borders of China and Pakistan, both almost adversarial to Indian interests. Indian political punditry has been somewhat critical and demanding in regard to security of India’s northern borders and her adequate preparedness to meet the challenge posed by the two neighbours maliciously working in tandem. The building of Trans-Pir Panchal railway line is India’s answer to their queries, and certainly it is a convincing answer. Along with this, we should also take into account that rail connectivity in the northern border region of India does not stop with taking the line to the northern most point in the valley, viz. Baramulla. Our strategists are planning to link up Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu region to Jammu railways, and also extend the Baramulla rail link to Kupwara and Lolab Valley thus catering to the entire border in Kashmir. Survey for these links is underway and will come up at proper time. Once this entire rail map of Jammu and Kashmir becomes functional, we will find phenomenal change in the economy, life pattern and futuristic vision of the people of this State. Poverty, backwardness and political uncertainty will be banished and replaced by prosperity, openness and self reliance. Scores of more tourist destinations will come up and with adequate tourist facilities at hand we should expect J&K to be the hub of future tourist industry in South Asia. No wonder a day may come when Srinagar becomes the Centerport for re-structured Silk Route trade and commerce. There could be fair chances of rail connectivity with Central Asia and its hydrocarbon reserves. In that sense India is providing the basic infrastructure. This will force or prompt our adversaries to do some rethinking on how they would devise their foreign relations particularly their relations with India.
True that many years passed when the rail bridge over the Chenab was contemplated. Such projects of tremendous technical, logistical and political importance cannot be undertaken in a huff. There are innumerable things to be taken care of before the project is launched. The testing of the soil and rocks where deep digging is to be made for raising the structure was a time consuming exercise. Testing of soil and rocks etc. had to be done at country’s premier laboratories and results had to be awaited. In the matter of superstructure and design two foreign firms had to be consulted and their designs studied and approved. Many pre-requisites have taken time and then only has the digging been formally inaugurated. Millions of tons of excavated soil have to be carefully deposited securely so that it does not melt into the river and become silt as that would damage the Salal hydroelectric project. AFCONS and other companies and engineers involved in the construction of the prestigious project deserve three chairs. They are raising the new temples of modern India.