In Tibetan language "Rohtang" means "piles of corpse". Cutting a tunnel to by- pass deadly Rohtang pass in extreme climate is proving to be Herculean task for developers. In wake of logistic problems posed by heavy snowfall, Border Road Organization (BRO) has proposed altering initial plan drawn for tunnel project.
Border Road organization has proposed to reduce length and width of 8.8 kilometer long tunnel aimed at providing all weather road connectivity to forward areas along border. The decision of the BRO comes in the wake of logistic problems faced by engineering unit at snowbound north portal that lies towards tribal Lahual. The Rs 1,495-crore tunnel is being constructed under the aegis of BRO by Strabag-Afcons, a joint venture between Afcons Infrastructure Ltd and Strabag SE of Austria, the world's fourth largest construction company.
Tunnel developers, BRO has planned to reduce tunnel width from proposed 12 meters to six meters, similarly height of tunnel will be cut short from 12 metres to nine metres. "Plans have been formulated to temporarily cut down the size of tunnel, which could be widened later", said chief engineer of BRO, PK Mahajan, associated with tunnel project right from the time when idea of boring tunnel across 13300 feet Rohtang pass began to take shape in 1988.
"Temporary changes in initial plans are being made to provide engineering logistic on the north portal remains snow bound for six months" said Mahajan, while he adds that due to logistic difficulties only 15 metres of boring has been done on the north portal. The biggest difficulty for engineers remains the supply of material and machines required for tunnel construction on north portal. BRO engineers observe that temporary changes will enable them to reach north portal well before completion time proposed in February 2015.
Earlier BRO had proposed to use heavy choppers for airlifting of machinery and material but elite agency now feels that the work involves high risk, since extreme weather conditions are likely to make things difficult. "It is difficult to stock cement as it has limited shell life" said Mahajan while he added that 6000 liters of diesel for operating excavating machines have already been stocked at north portal. While the snow in November has brought the tunnel excavation work to standstill the north portal, the work continues in the south portal at Dhundi 22 kilometers uphill famous tourist town manali.
The engineers at work on at the south portal are anticipating more geological difficulties as they bore in "There is possibility that thermal gases emit when we bore more deep into the rocks" said Mahajan adding that the tunnel developers were equipped with technology to tackle geological barriers. Currently apart from the boomer drilling machines as many as 175 people were working on the site at Dhundhi.
BRO has deployed snow-cutting machines for providing 24-hour road connectivity for construction site. The proposed horseshoe-shaped tunnel will be a two-way lane in a single tube 11.25 metres wide. The tunnel will also prove vital for troops serving in the Leh-Ladakh region all-year round. The tunnel, for which UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had laid the foundation stone in June, has a distinctive feature - semit ransverse ventilation system - where large fans will separately circulate air, in-and-out throughout the tunnel's length, and thus reduce vehicular fumes.
Once completed, the tunnel will link Manali with Keylong, the district headquarter of Lahual and Spiti that otherwise remains cut off for more than six months due to heavy snowfall. It will also reduce the distance between Manali and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir by approximately 48 km and will save about four hours of travel time.