Arguably one of the toughest engineering challenges in hand, Railways plans to complete the Chenab bridge in Jammu and Kashmir by 2016, making it the world's highest rail bridge.
The arch-shaped bridge across Chenab river-bed in Reasi district, which will be five times the height of Qutab Minar at 359 m above river bed, will connect Baramulla and Srinagar to Jammu via Udhampur-Katra-Qazigund covering the entire route in about seven hours.
The ambitious project, which fell victim to various issues such as its alignment, feasibility and also security concerns, is finally beginning to take shape with the construction of pillars on either side.
"We plan to complete it by December 2016, a year before the entire Udhampur-Baramulla stretch is commissioned," CAO of Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link Project, BD Garg said.
The 1,315-m-long engineering marvel would boast of several unique features. The design would ensure that it withstands blast and seismic activities, while the signalling arrangements would ensure the train does not encounter high wind velocity at that height.
"Anemometer has been provided at the bridge site which will measure wind speed at the bridge site, and will interlock train movement over the bridge automatically if there is any wind above the prescribed speed," Garg said.
Trains can cruise at 100 kmph on the structure, which would have a life span of 120 years.
On being asked why the arch-shaped design was chosen, he said this structure is most preferred as it can absorb seismic forces unlike concrete structures. The thrust of the arch stabilises the side slopes of the river.
Further, it is easier to construct and maintain and rehabilitate steel structure as compared to other structures, he said.
As the bridge could prove vulnerable from the security point of view, the design has been made such that even if an element is removed from the structure, traffic could still remain open, running at a restricted speed of 30 kmph.
"If one of the columns gives way, the deck would not collapse. It would be possible to restore the bridge for normal operation after carrying out required repairs," Garg said.
The executing agency for the project is Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd which has an experience of handling tough projects on the famed Konkan railway route.