What The Rishikesh-Karnprayag Rail Link Means To Uttarakhand And The People Of Garhwal

What The Rishikesh-Karnprayag Rail Link Means To Uttarakhand And The People Of Garhwal Construction work on a railway station in progress.
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  • The railway line will play the role of arterial connectivity to the people of a region that is battling out-migration, bringing a decisive change in people’s outlook, their livelihood and provide access to Rishikesh and Dehradun.

There is a point at the Dehradun-Rishikesh highway, where Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat's favourite expression of "double-engine sarkar" appears in bold glimpses. To the left, there are shining fresh railway tracks, to the right, a bridge mushrooming over a seasonal riverbed. Just above the head, a flyover to ease traffic flow from Dehradun to Rishikesh.

The Centre and state team is weaving a formidable story of rail and road connectivity. Rawat is cooperating for its timely completion. This "double engine" after all is going literal.

"Gauchar Station: two platforms, a total of three lines, partly on bridge." Next. "Sivai (Karnaprayag): "three plus one goods; total number of lines — 10; partly in tunnel."  These precise details could easily pass for stuff dreams are made of for the people of Pauri Garhwal and Tehri Garhwal in Uttarakhand.

In 2013 Uttarakhand floods, Gauchar (Chamoli district) played a vital role in the relief and rescue operations. For a moment, imagine, that "two platforms, a total of three lines" played a part in the relief and rescue operations shouldered by the brave men of the Indian Army, Air Force and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

A railway station, and a rail track running through Gauchar towards Karnprayag would be a working reality, expected by 2024.

Work on the ambitious Rishikesh-Karnprayag Broad Gauge Rail Link Project is progressing each day in order to be on track with the completion deadline of 2024. The details of the Gauchar station and the Karnaprayag station are targets to be met in the ambitious rail project which is set to transform Garhwal in Uttarakhand.

At Muni Ki Reti in Rishikesh, Shravan (name changed), one of the team members, prepares for a quick round up of a (stomach rumbling) journey and a story. He unveils a Google Earth depiction of the entire alignment Rishikesh-Karnprayag Rail Project before this author on a screen at the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) work pad.

He begins to move the mouse over the designated route and alignment.

The idea behind the exercise is to give this author a visual tour of the ambitious project which will move people through 16 meticulously-laid tunnels — 105. 47 km in length.

His mouse stops at the point where Devprayag station is depicted on the alignment map. It is here that the alignment will cross river Ganga, and the train will chug towards two more rail bridges, which will be built to cross the Alaknanada river.

The longest tunnel will be 15.8 kilometres and begin from Devprayag onwards and will stretch to Janasu.

Realising, I have put down the pen for a pause, betraying a sense of wonder and some emotion, Shravan looks back and tries to dig back a smile and some emotion.

He hails from this part of Uttarakhand. "Palayan kam hoga (out-migration will come down)." These three words that he utters reveal the entire essence of this project to the people hailing from and living in the region.

What The Rishikesh-Karnprayag Rail Link Means To Uttarakhand And The People Of Garhwal

I request him to move back, towards Rishikesh, further down from Devprayag, towards Yognagri Rishikesh station, the site I visited on ground. From this point, on the depiction on the screen, I trace the travel towards the Chandrabhaga river. It is here that the massive meaning of this entire project begins to rumble out.

What The Project Means To The Region

The Yognagri-Rishikesh-Karnprayag rail project is of national importance. It is being monitored as a project meant to provide rail connectivity to Garhwal in Uttarakhand which is a border state. Its importance and value to the people of the region could remain largely undervalued in the outsider's perception.

For the outsider, this rail project will fling open the gates, and a faster journey to Char Dham — the holy destinations. To the outsider, it will improve connectivity to the Char Dham, but fling open the barrages, towards better life, healthcare, access, and opportunities.

The bridge over Chandrabhaga river would mark the symbolic gateway to Pauri Garhwal and Karnprayag.

Chandrabhaga is a seasonal river. The rocky bed snakes through the jungles and flows alongside the road to Rishikesh. It is here that the train will first cross over a river in the gigantic hilly terrain, moving towards, what by road marks the bewildering onset of Ganga's view from the heights of Byasi.

The railway line will play the role of arterial connectivity to the people of a region that is fighting against out-migration. This will bring a decisive change in the outlook of the people of the region towards themselves, their livelihood and related options, and access to Rishikesh and Dehradun, two important destinations for them.

Simultaneously, it will open transport nodes to the region, easing the flow to tourist destinations. This in itself has humongous capacity to change lives of people in the region. It allows them to remain in their own territory. It allows them to explore the life and work related travel in their own region.

It will allow them to nurture their own state through the use of the different stations towards road access, for life, access to health care, opportunity, and work. It will further open the region to itself.

Construction work in progress.
Construction work in progress.

The new 1,676 mm broad gauge 125.20 km railway line between Rishikesh and Karnaprayag cutting across five districts of the state, Dehradun, Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Rudraprayag and Chamoli, will connect towns vital to the region. Among them are Devprayag, Srinagar, Gauchar, Rudraprayag and Karnaprayag.

RVNL has also been given the task of undertaking the rail connectivity to Char Dham — Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. The Karnprayag project has thrown open the field for progress in the Char Dham project. "I am witnessing change before me, already, in the lives and motivation among the people of the region. It will boost the local economy and change lives," the expert adds.

Karnprayag will see a station as well as the rail and road connection with National Highway 58.

According to a vital team member (did not wished to be named), the project involves region specific topographical challenges and constraints.

Tunnelling It Through The Prayags

Intense surveys, planning and expertise of international consultants and Indian stalwarts in the field, the project is steering ahead through tunnelling, bridge and railway-centred challenges thrown by the terrain.

The escape tunnel will be 98.54 km long (against the 105.47 km of tunnels and 218 km in total of the tunnelling). The work undertaken in six added tunnels will pad up progress and speed to the tunnelling. According to the official, the work in two main tunnels, T9 and T10 has started.

Eighty five per cent of this track is running through tunnels. The challenges surrounding the alignment were bound be topography and are environment specific. Creating and building of access to bridges involved formidable work. The building of approach roads for work and labour has been part of the project.

The challenges on ground included the spreading of work in a vast territory; uniformity of geology was not a luxury here; the impact on the environment had to be factored in and brought down.

What The Rishikesh-Karnprayag Rail Link Means To Uttarakhand And The People Of Garhwal

This decided the nature of planning groundwork and executing the drawing board for the groundwork. "NGT guidelines have been followed in all spheres." The work of land acquisition involved phases. "The state government has been cooperating on all possible fronts."

Contours Of The Drawing Board And Ground

The team has focussed on the creation of an elevation model as per the specifications and requirements of the terrain, and the geological survey. The project corridor model came after meticulous study and design of the different options were conducted. The sifting and refining of the corridor made the final alignment fall in line.

Technical parameters, such as gradients, curvatures, tunnel constructability related issues, the accessibility of tunnels, construction related spaces, and station locations (flat terrain and maximum possible length) went into the design alignment.

The shifting and studying between field and desktop are a part of the work drill. Aspects regarding construction feasibility, locations of stations, and alignment options are passed through competitive studies and the weighing of uncertainty, risk and challenges have been part of the design stage. "The aim was to minimise risks during construction and operational stages," he says.

The station at Devprayag will provide connectivity to pilgrims and locals from nearby villages and those up to Pauri. From here, the longest tunnel which is 15.8 kilometres will lead to Maletha, and from there to Srinagar — which will play the role of a hub for goods, tourists and locals.

Back To Rishikesh

The station at Yog Nagri Rishikesh will serve as the converging point for trains carrying pilgrims to Haridwar Kumbh and Magh Mela. With three platforms at this station, a symbolic depiction of the Kedarnath Temple, waiting rooms and other facilities it will provide a new alternative to passengers travelling to Haridwar and Dehradun district.

The site was buzzing with different construction activities, both related to the line and platforms, and the aesthetic theme-based face-lift to the idea of a nodal station that would transport the world to Devbhoomi and to the sacred ghats of Haridwar and Rishikesh.

At a distance from this site, the massive work of  fabrication of bridges is currently underway. From here, these bridges will be carried and "launched".

The alignment from Vir Bhadra towards New Rishikesh involves the upgrading of track. Raiwala, a significant junction, will once again play an important role as a point leading to New Rishikesh. The road bridge leading to Yog Nagri Rishikesh station has preserved the staple pretty view of this part of the district. "This station will be bigger than Haridwar station and will play a significant role in holding the offload."

What The Rishikesh-Karnprayag Rail Link Means To Uttarakhand And The People Of Garhwal

The Invisible Powers

It is not hard to grasp the emotion of Uttarakhandis surrounding Dhari Devi and the temple dedicated to her. The emotion towards the Devi marks the intangible and tangible landmark in the project. Dhari Devi will be a stop and a station.

"What were the challenges you met here?", I asked the expert.  There is a pause.

Then, he puts a counter question. "How do you know we met challenges here?"

For beginners, Dhari Devi is revered as the goddess of immense power, and is believed to be the custodian of balance (even a mention of the 2013 floods comes with a careful prayer to the Devi and caution).

There is a temple dedicated to the goddess in the region. Visitors undertake work in the region after seeking her blessings. Members of the team have done pretty much the same, I am told.

June onwards, the work towards the opening of faces in all tunnels will be done. TBM construction technique will be used for T8. The resettling of earth dug out for the project, too, is a vital part of the project, and the team is pursuing this task with utmost care and planning.

Dedication and understanding the region through the contours of engineering helped the team. "See the tunnels next time," he adds.

The team faced intimidating factors and failed attempts at finding headways associated with Dhari Devi Out (one of the segments of the Dhari Devi station) , I learn. The expert tells me before returning to work: "What is not visible has a bigger role than what is visible."

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