PM Modi in the tunnel 
Snapshot
  • The tunnel being inaugurated today guarantees perennial connectivity to the Kashmir valley

India’s longest road tunnel stretching 9.28 km is being inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today (2 April 2017). The tunnel is a huge achievement for not just the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), but also for the private sector that has been instrumental in projects of such scale. The Chenani-Nashri tunnel, also known as the Patnitop tunnel, is set to change a lot in how different regions of India are connected across various terrains.

How Does One Tunnel Change Anything?

Transport projects have always focused on changing how the goods and shipment sector operates, and formed the basis of the National Highways Development Project (NHDP) as well as subsequent projects such as the Sagarmala project. Any system that offers better quality movement of goods and people across a region will always spur development of the various sectors around it. As I had written earlier, the Ro-Ro network along the Konkan Railway line enabled goods to be transported in nearly half the time, at a fraction of the cost, the reason being a relatively straight railway track that would allow better speeds.

The below picture shows exactly how much National Highway 44 (formerly National Highway 1A) twists and turns right now. The section in the map is the one that the tunnel will bypass. The tunnel is expected to reduce travel time between the winter and summer capital (Jammu and Srinagar respectively) of Jammu and Kashmir by two hours, reducing the distance by around 30 km, which in turn will result in a huge reduction in consumption of fuel. The government estimates a reduction of Rs 27 lakh of fuel consumption per day, on average. Further, the tunnel is impervious to natural calamities such as landslides and avalanches which are common in the region. The core advantage the tunnel offers is permanent connectivity to the Kashmir valley, which has hitherto been intermittently connected.

National Highway 44 National Highway 44

Tunnels In India

The story of tunnels in India is not new. The British had built 28 tunnels through the Bhor Ghat of the Western Ghats in the 1860s as part of the Bombay-Poona railway line. The 2.8-km Jawahar Tunnel, built by German engineers Alfred Kunz and C Barsel was opened in 1956. The tunnel is now being supplemented by the wider and longer Banihal Qazigund Tunnel which is 8.4km long and set to open in 2018. India’s longest tunnel, the 11.2km-long Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel, opened in 2013, runs 400m below the Jawahar Tunnel.

Tunnels in India were largely restricted to a few areas within the Himalayas due to their expensive nature. Further, our nation’s socialist nature made access to tunnelling technology rather difficult. This was among the reasons why tunnelling for the Kolkata Metro took years.

The 1990s and the 2000s were two decades that changed the face of India’s tunnelling prowess. Beginning with the 741-km-long Konkan Railway line along India’s west coast that featured 91 tunnels to Mumbai-Pune Expressway and subsequently the Delhi Metro, India began taking the tunnelling business seriously, importing Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs).

Today, Maharashtra is considering building a 9-km-long tunnel through the Western Ghats in order to add more capacity to the Expressway while the city of Mumbai has successfully managed to build an 8.3-km-long tunnel to supply water.

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Setting The Bar High

The Patnitop tunnel, is the longest road tunnel and second longest tunnel in India. It features a 13-m-wide main tunnel, along with a 5-m-wide escape tunnel running parallel to it with emergency passages connecting the two every 300m. The tunnel also features Lay Byes for vehicles to stop in case of emergencies. Construction began in 2011 after IL&FS Chenani-Nashri Tunnelway Limited, a special purpose vehicle of IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited was awarded the project in 2010 under a Design, Build, Finance, Operate, Transfer (DBFOT) pattern. The tunnel took nearly half a decade to complete because of its location, the geology and rock strata of the area, and crucially the logistics constraints.

In spite of all this, it has managed to set a record of sorts with such a short time taken for such a massive project. Controlled explosions using TNT (trinitrotoluene) were used in the initial phase of construction. Security features include complete radio connectivity, emergency phone units every 150m, fire safety and fire-fighting units, video surveillance and vehicle detection systems among others. The tunnel will also feature ABB’s transverse ventilation system, a software-controlled system that will maintain clean air and regulate levels of carbon emission within the tunnel.

Unlike the Western Ghats, tunnelling in the Himalayas is a tougher task due to the more rugged terrain, high altitude, inaccessibility leading to difficulties in transporting equipment, and difficult environment for personnel. Further, the region is also prone to snowfall, avalanches and landslides which makes construction in such regions a daunting task. Success here will result in the future success of similar projects along the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas (Northeast India).

Built at a cost of Rs 2,519 crore, the tunnel is part of the Jammu-Udhampur-Srinagar four-lane highway, which in turn is a part of National Highway 44 (NH44) connecting Srinagar in the North to Kanyakumari in the South. It has helped reduce deforestation in the hills, thus preserving the ecology of the region. It will certainly be a big boost to economic activity in Jammu and Kashmir, while also giving us the additional ability to send our troops to areas witnessing insurgency and terrorism. It will also make the Kashmir Valley more tourist-friendly, and act as a reminder that Jammu and Kashmir is indeed, an integral part of India. With more tunnel projects being completed in the vicinity, Srinagar is becoming closer to the rest of India and someday, the journey from Delhi to India’s northernmost state will be as pleasant and safe as journey in any other part of the country.

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