Published on 06th September 2022
The 1,315 m long and 359 m high Chenab Rail Bridge is the world's highest railway bridge under construction. Designed as an iconic arch bridge, it is a part of the larger mega project to connect the Kashmir valley to the mainstream rail network of the Indian Railways.
Once completed, the new bridge on the river Chenab will feature a new broad gauge railway line between Udhampur and Baramulla of the Kashmir Railway Project.
The construction of the Chenab bridge superstructure was completed in the early weeks of August 2022. It was inaugurated on August 13, 2022, just two days before the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence. The inauguration of the bridge was coined with the ceremonial celebration of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.’
The new bridge is constructed across the Chenab river between Bakkal and Kauri in the Reasi district of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, India.
The Chenab bridge is a crucial link in the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla section of the Northern Railway. The 111-km new stretch from Katra to Banihal will connect the Kashmir region to mainstream India via railways. This is part of the ambitious JUSBRL (Jammu-Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla-Railway-Link) project, which is being built at the cost of INR 28000 Crore (USD 3.5-4 billion).
However, the new rail extension line had to pass through a large number of tunnels and bridges. On top of that, the highly rugged Himalayan terrain was another challenge. Along these difficult terrains lies a deep gorge of the river Chenab that requires a long-span bridge. Therefore, the construction of the Chenab river bridge was proposed and approved in 2003.
The bridge was originally scheduled to be constructed by 2009, but it suffered several roadblocks. Construction challenges forced the suspension of the bridge in 2008. The entire JUSBRL project was newly reviewed, and the design was revised. The railway officials approved the design in 2009. The work on the Chenab bridge began in 2012, with the bridge's main span modified to 467 meters.
Although the new railway line falls under the administration of Northern Railways, Konkan Railway Corporation Limited was chosen as the executive agency and design consultant. Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd has previously built several railway projects in challenging terrains of the Konkan Region of Western India.
The contract was awarded to M/s Chenab Bridge Project Undertaking, which is a JV (Joint Venture) between Afcons Infrastructure, Ultra Construction & Engineering Company of South Korea, and VSL India.
The design work is compliant with various national and global standards and codes, including the National Codes of India, IRS (Indian Railway Standards), BS (British Standards), and UIC (International Union of Railways).
In November 2017, the base supports were declared completed, allowing for the construction of the main arch. The bridge was fully completed and was inaugurated in August 2022.
As per Giridhar Rajagopalan, Deputy Managing Director (Afcons Infrastructure Ltd), HSFG (High Strength Friction Grip) bolts were used for the iconic structure's critical golden joint, which marked the completion of joining the two ends of the overarch deck.
The bridge consists of 17 spans. The main arch span measures 467m (linear) and 550m (curvilinear). The bridge has two viaducts on either side of the Chenab river banks.
The bridge has a two-ribbed arch design with concrete-filled sealed steel boxes used as steel trusses. The structure is supported by two cable-attached pylons (130 m & 100 m long) on either end. These pylons were designed by Austrian farm VCE Consult ZT-GmbH.
The colossal structure is slated to consume 25,000 metric tons of steel, 4,000 metric tons of reinforced steel, and 46,000 cubic meters of concrete.
The rugged Himalayan terrain itself was the biggest challenge for the project. Due to the lack of connectivity infrastructure in the mountainous region, local workshops and printshops were set up on either side of the Chenab river valley.
Even electricity was produced locally as power infrastructure isn’t available in the mountains. The water used for making concrete was also piped from far away distance.
M/s Chenab Bridge Project Undertaking, a JV between Afcons Infrastructure, Ultra Construction & Engineering Company of South Korea, and VSL India, has been the main contractor for the project. Konkan Railways is the executive decision maker for the project.
The monumental bridge was declared a national project due to its national importance in connecting Srinagar to existing mainstream lines of Indian Railways. Thus the Union Government of India has sanctioned the entire project cost of INR 1,486 crore (USD 190 million) in its budget to strengthen connectivity in Jammu & Kashmir through the Kashmir railway project.
With the completion of the main arch bridge construction, the majority of work on the Chenab railway bridge is completed. Next, the railway tracks will be laid, and railway wagons will be tested to check operational feasibility. The bridge is expected to be operational by December. 2024.
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