Metro Man red flags Kashmir’s ambitious Katra-Banihal rail line as delays, costs mount

  • Srinand Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 08, 2016 14:22 IST
A train moves on runs along the Srinagar-Banihal line in South Kashmir. The government sanctioned the project to connect Katra in the Jammu region to Banihal, considered the gateway to the Kashmir Valley, in 1994. However, much of the project remains unfinished, according to the Dr Sreedharan-headed review committee. (PTI File Photo)

‘Metro man’ Dr E Sreedharan yet again raised a red flag regarding the nationally important Kashmir rail project, drawing attention to the huge “time and cost overruns” being incurred, in a recent letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Twelve years after the project sanction in 1994, work on the 124 kilometre Katra to Banihal section has been lingering. Progress on this section is not even 20%. With the present style and speed of construction, it would take another ten years for completion with severe cost escalations,” Dr Sreedharan said in the letter.

Best known for his work on the Konkan Railway, the expert also sought a meeting with Modi to explain why the project was being delayed and “what remedial measures were possible”.

As chairman of a high powered committee, Dr Sreedharan had last year strongly recommended that the alignment chosen for the Katra-Banihal line be abandoned, despite the fact that Rs 4,000 crore was already spent on constructing it. The railway board had rejected the recommendation.

The project has apparently been suffering from departmental rivalries between IRCON and the KRCL, the railways public sector undertakings implementing the project. Added to that, progress on the project has been shoddy along an alignment that is suspected to have geological faults.

Reports said that proposed en route stations and tunnels at locations, including Sangaldhan, have been abandoned, making these vulnerable for occupation by terror groups. Many tunnels have also collapsed or are otherwise showing signs of distress on account of poor workmanship.

Dr Sreedharan has also pitched for a safety review of the proposed Chenab bridge – touted as the world’s tallest rail bridge that is being constructed on the route. Though 12 years have passed since the deadline of the bridge’s completion, the foundation work has yet to be completed. Steel procured for the same have been lying unused and corroded. Sources said some of these materials were being used in the project.

“The mega arch bridge across the Chenab river – barely 60 kilometres from the Pakistan border – can be highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. If this bridge gets damaged, restoration of the railway line wall will not be possible for four or five years,” a report by the Sreedharan-headed committee said.

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