One of India's most ambitious civil engineering projects takes a US$2·5bn railway deep into the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir

CONSTRUCTION of the 290 km Kashmir Railway is well in hand in northern India, and trains should be running on the first section in 2007.

Indian Railways Chairman J PBatra confirmed at the end of June that trains should begin running through the Kashmir Valley in February, when a batch of diesel multiple-units starts a limited shuttle service on the isolated 45 km section between Rajwansher and Anwantipora.

A 60 km access route from the IR railhead at Jammu to Udhampur opened in mid-2005, and construction teams are now toiling towards the town of Qazigund high in the Himalayan foothills. Passing through rugged and spectacular terrain, the line gains no less than 1000m in the 142 km between Udhampur and Qazigund.

The only access to the area at the moment is a two-lane road that climbs steeply up a series of hairpin bends that make the trip 'a terrifying experience', according to Rail India Technical & Economic Services, which was appointed engineering consultant for the railway. Rivers and deep gorges punctuate the rail route, which has been designed with a ruling gradient of just 1%. Rites says that the journey will be 'safe, fast, reliable and enjoyable' - a considerable amount of tourist traffic is anticipated, according to Rites Chief Project Manager (T&S) Amrendra Jha.

Studies for the 1676mm gauge line began in 1997 with investigations into engineering requirements and traffic forecasts. A detailed engineering study followed in 2001, with preliminary construction starting simultaneously.

Contracts for the Udhampur - Katra - Qazigund section were awarded to Konkan Railway Corp and for the Qazigund - Baramulla section to Indian Railway Construction Corp. Following the start of the DMU service in February, the rest of the Qazigund - Baramulla section is also expected to open next year - but it will remain isolated for a further two years until the difficult section through the mountains from Udhampur and Katra is completed.

More than 75% of the Udhampur - Qazigund alignment runs in tunnel, with a further 10% on bridges or viaducts. The longest tunnel stretches for 10·96 km through the Pir Panjal range, and the tallest structure on the line is the Chenab River bridge with a 460 m span rising 359m above the water at its highest point; the longest span elsewhere is 150m. Many of the structures required the use of individual designs, so keeping the cost down was a major challenge.

Minimum curve radius is 676m, and line speed will be limited to 100 km/h. Concrete sleepers and continuously welded rail are being laid, and three-aspect colourlight signalling is being installed. There is a possibility of using GSM-R, but Jha says that this is not yet certain. The line will have 30 stations, and initially it will be served by 10 to 12 trains a day. Freight traffic will include food grains and petroleum products.

Rites used MXRail software from Bentley Systems combined with software tools developed in-house to design and optimise the route. Rites was familiar with MXRail which it had used on a rail project in Malaysia, and this proved to be a valuable tool. The design process started with digitisation of topography and elevation details from available maps, which allowed definition of a tentative alignment with alternative routes. This enabled a corridor to be defined and frozen for detailed assessment. Aerial photogrammetric surveys were then carried out, and the data generated from this process was used for the detailed design.

The flexibility of designing alternative alignments and 3D visualisation in the MXRail package helped in deciding the most suitable route as the terrain could be visualised without having to undertake site visits for each alternative; cut and fill could also be visualised. Initially, four MXRail licences were acquired, and later two additional licences were obtained for MXRoad.

Rites says that use of the software helped to save 'millions of dollars'. As an example, for a 12 km section between Km 50 and Km 62, the savings are put at more than Rs600m. Significant time savings, around six months for this section alone, are also anticipated.

  • CAPTION: Tough terrain characterises the route of IR's line into the Kashmir region. Being built at a cost of Rs5bn, the 1 030 m long Chenab bridge will be the highest railway bridge in the world with a 460 m steel truss arch carrying the tracks 359 m above water level - 35 m higher than the Eiffel Tower. Finnish consultancy WSPConsulting Kortes has been appointed lead designer for the structure, with Leonhard Andrä & Partner of Germany assisting with force analysis and design of the arch. Local firm Afcons has been subcontracted to assist with construction Artist's impression: WSP Consulting Kortes