Banihal Qazigund Road Tunnel is an 8.45 km (5.25 mi) road tunnel in the Pir Panjal range in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir connecting Banihal and Qazigund.
Construction of this tunnel started in 2011 along with the project to widen NH 44 (which was known as NH 1A before all the national highways were renumbered in the year 2010) to four lanes. The existing road tunnel below the Banihal pass (Jawahar tunnel), has been a bottleneck on the road due to its elevation of 2,194 m (7,198 ft) and limited traffic capacity. The new tunnel’s average elevation at 1,790 m (5,870 ft) is 400 m lower than the existing Jawahar tunnel elevation, which would make it less prone to avalanches. When completed, the tunnel would reduce the road distance between Banihal and Qazigund by 16 km (10 mile).
It is a double tube tunnel consisting of two parallel tunnels – one for each direction of travel. Each tunnel is 7 m (23 ft) wide and has two lanes of the road. The two tunnels are interconnected by a passage every 500 m (1,600 ft) for maintenance and emergency evacuation. The tunnel will have forced ventilation for extracting smoke and stale air and infusing fresh air. It will have state of the art monitoring and control systems for security. It is expected that vehicles will have to pay a toll to use the tunnel.
As of May 2016, 7.2 km of the 8.5 km had been excavated. As of Feb 2017, the tunnel excavation was close to completion, with tunnel commissioning expected in 2018. May 2017: Tunnel work to complete in 2018.
Banihal Qazigund Road Tunnel
Banihal Qazigund Road Tunnel is a 8.45km (5.25 mi) road tunnel in the PirPanjal range in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir connecting Banihal and Qazigund.
Speeding the work:
A few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertions to “emotionally and physically” connect Kashmir with the rest of the country, the J&K Government has decided to expedite the work on the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel to complete another mega project of “integration”.The work on the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel, which is a part of the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) flagship project of four-laning the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, is not going on the expected speed due some local issues. Now, the government has decided to speed up the work on the project to achieve another milestone in bringing Kashmir further close to other states of the country, reports, tribuneindia.
Official sources said a deadline had been fixed to complete the excavating work of the 8.45 km-long tunnel. “The excavating work will be completed within one and half months,” a source said, adding that the local authorities had been asked to complete the process of land acquisition, compensation and clearance from the Forest Department to complete the 36-km stretch of the Ramban-Banihal road. Union Surface Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari assured people in Udhampur on Sunday that before August 15, 2018, the distance of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway would be further reduced. He said the distance would be covered in four hours after the completion of the highway as compared to the present time of nearly 8 to 10 hours. Ramban Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Aijaz told The Tribune that the acquisition process of land had almost completed. “Our job is to provide land to the executing agency,” he said. The Prime Minister had said the tunnel would bring people of Kashmir closer to the nation, adding that it was not only a network of roads but of hearts too.
To be used for normal traffic during bad weather
The Qazigund-Banihal railway tunnel would also be used for vehicular traffic during inclement weather and snowfalls. This would ensure timely movement of passengers and vehicles who often get stuck on the national highway for days due to blockade during bad weathers.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was in the national capital during February, today took up the issue of using the Qazigund-Banihal railway tunnel with Minister for Railways, Suresh Prabhu who assured all support and cooperation. Prabhu agreed to the suggestion of using the railway tunnel for movement of vehicles during inclement weather. Modalities in this regard would be worked out shortly. It may be recalled that the said railway tunnel also has an inbuilt parallel road stretch which Mufti today sought from Prabhu to be used for facilitating traffic movement on national highway.
Fasting up the process:
Earlier in February Visiting Chairman, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Yudhvir Singh Malik has assured J&K R&B Minister that the crucial Chanani-Nashri tunnel will become operational in March. The other major tunnel connecting Banihal with Qazigun, however, will operate later in 2018.
The Southern portal (end) of the tunnel is at 33°29’22?N 75°10’22?E? / ?33.4895°N 75.1729°E and the Northern portal (end) of the tunnel is at 33°33’53?N 75°11’12?E? / ?33.5646°N 75.1867°E.
A long due project:
NHAI chairman was deputed to J&K by Union Road and Surface Transport Ministry to personally review the progress of the key highway and other road projects in the state and submit a report to the Prime Minister’s Office. This follows the meeting of the Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti with the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in New Delhi last week where she had flagged road connectivity as a major area of concern which needed immediate attention, an official spokesman said. The Minister emphasized expediting work on Srinagar-Qazigund stretch, Qazigund-Banihal tunnel, Banihal-Ramban section and Chenani-Nashri tunnel as part of upgradation of Srinagar-Jammu highway to facilitate hassle-free travel between the two capital cities of the State. He also reviewed the progress of work on Batote-Kishtwar highway and proposed Ring Roads in Jammu and Srinagar. The Minister and sought the intervention of the NHAI chairman in expediting the work on these projects of vital importance to the State.
Regarding Batote-Kishtwar National Highway, the Minister was informed that the Centre has recently released Rs 100 crore for the upgradation of this highway and it would be completed by December this year. Regarding Srinagar-Qazigund section of the highway, the Minister was informed by the NHAI authorities that due to the disturbances in the Valley last summer, the work on this important stretch took a big hit. The NHAI chairman, however, assured the Minister that the work is being expedited on this stretch to complete this year.
Regarding Qazigund-Banihal tunnel, the NHAI chairman informed the Minister that the 8.5 km long tunnel is at the breakthrough stage and it would be commissioned in 2018. The meeting was informed that NHAI has simultaneously directed the executing agencies for expediting work on widening of National Highway between Udhampur and Chenani.
Meeting the deadline
Engineers are working round the clock to dig through two parallel 8.5-km tunnels, is served early in the morning to ensure that engineers and supervisors are at the site as the shift begins at 8 am.As the sun comes up behind the mountains, oversize machines enter the tunnel from the two portals at Banihal and Qazigund sides. These ‘boomers’, with computerised controls, are specially designed for the job as it is too risky to deploy tunnel boring machines in the Himalayas. The battery of engineers keeps working at it round the clock, breaking only to change shifts. “Meeting the engineering challenge is only a part of the difficulties. The tricky terrain makes transportation of the equipment and material to work site difficult and severe winter and snow fall restrict working time,” says P Satyanarayana, general manager of Navayuga Engineering Company that is constructing the tunnel. To ensure uninterrupted work, the company has provided facilities for lodging and feeding supervisory staff as well as workers at the work site, he adds. The expenses incurred on high technology and special facilities to the staff and workers have pushed up the productivity at the working site and clear signs of this were visible when this writer visited Banihal in January. “We have dug through nearly 7.2 km of the 8.5-km tunnel and hope to achieve the breakthrough by blasting the last wall between Banihal and Qazigund by the year-end,” Satyanarayana says.
Even as ongoing four-laning work on remaining portions of Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is going on with satisfactory pace, the construction agency is facing extreme challenge in executing operations on Ramban-Banihal stretch because of the difficult terrain.
The engineering analysis
The tunnel between Qazigund-Banihal would be used for plying vehicular traffic during extreme weather conditions and heavy snowfall on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway. As a sequel to the decision of using the Qazigund-Banihal Railway tunnel for plying vehicular traffic during extreme weather conditions and heavy snowfalls.
Construction of a new 8.45 km (5.25 mi) long Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel started in 2011 to widen NH 1A to four lanes. It is a double tube tunnel consisting of two parallel tunnels – one for each direction of travel. Each tunnel is 7 metre wide tunnel and has two lanes of road..The new tunnel’s average elevation at 1,790 m (5,870 ft) is 400 metre lower than the existing Jawahar tunnel’s elevation and would reduce the road distance between Banihal and Qazigund by 16 km (9.9 mi). The new tunnel would also be less prone to snow avalanche as it will be at a lower elevation.
The Qazigund-Banihal Tunnel will be the first four-lane highway tunnel to connect Jammu and Kashmir, reducing travel distance by 70 km and travel time by over three hours. Further, the tunnel will ensure uninterrupted road connectivity to Kashmir during snowfall.
The tunnel aims to provide an alternative to the 2.5-km Jawahar tunnel through the Pir Panjal mountains under the Banihal pass that was commissioned in 1956 and remains closed for weeks in winter due to snow avalanches. It was designed for a traffic of 150 vehicles per day in either direction but more than half a century later more than 7,000 vehicles pass through it every day in both directions. Therefore, a wider and longer tunnel has been planned at a lower elevation.
Lower down the hills along the existing Jammu-Srinagar highway, engineers have already dug up a 9-km road tunnel between Chenani and Nashri and are now engaged in finishing the job by putting up supports and installing electrical, mechanical and communication equipment.
“The two-lane tunnel with a parallel intermediate lane escape tunnel will be the country’s first tunnel with an integrated tunnel control system (ITCS) of international standards, where the ventilation, fire control, signals, communication and electrical systems will be automatically actuated,” says SC Mittal, chief executive (implementation) of IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd (ITNL), which has been engaged by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) as the contractor of this project.
The tunnel will shorten the existing 41-km highway through hilly terrain to an all-weather road of just 10.9 km. It will provide an alternative to the existing two-lane highway, which passes through steep mountain terrains and remains closed for 40 days a year due to bad weather. It will cross through the flyshoid geological formation in the Patnitop range of the Himalayas, skip the Nagroda bypass which truckers find difficult to negotiate due to its sharp and steep bends as well as the treacherous ‘Khooni Nala’ where shooting stones have frequently proved fatal for road users.
The Banihal-Qazigund and Chenani-Nashri tunnels are part of an ambitious plan of the NHAI to realign, restructure and redevelop the existing two-lane Jammu-Srinagar highway and construct a state-of-art four-lane highway between the summer and winter capitals of Jammu and Kashmir. The new four-lane highway will pass through a dozen tunnels, two dozen viaducts and 150 bridges, cutting down the existing distance of around 300 km by 60 km and the travel time by half.
Addressing the challenges:
The task is not easy as more than ten percent of the new road will pass through two big and ten small tunnels. As the world’s youngest mountain chains that are rising faster than any other, the Himalayas pose the most challenging ground conditions for construction engineers. They underline the famous words of the legendary pioneer of geological engineering, Josef Stini: “Nature is different everywhere and she does not follow the textbooks.”
With its complex geology, tunnelling in the Himalayas confronts engineers with diverse geological problems such as difficult terrain conditions, thrust zones, shear zones, folded rock sequence, in-situ stresses, rock cover, ingress of water, geothermal gradient, ingress of gases and a high level of seismicity. All these result in increased cost and extended completion period.
Indian engineers have demonstrated that they are capable of rising up to the challenge. After initially looking up to foreign experts they have learnt how to do it on their own. For the 9-km Chenani-Nashri tunnel, for instance, ITNL had initially contracted Leighton India – a subsidiary of Australia-based CIMIC Group, previously known as Leighton Holdings – for design and execution in 2010. However, following a financial dispute, it decided to undertake the project itself mid-way and its engineers finished excavation in a record time of 33 months.
Navayuga Engineering Company is constructing the Banihal tunnel with SMEC India, subsidiary of an Australian engineering and development company, as its independent consultant. Originally it was envisaged as a bi-directional, single-tube tunnel with two lanes. Later, it was revised to a uni-directional twin-tube tunnel design, which NHAI found better on technical and safety considerations. “Tunneling through the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir is full of surprises and this project is more complex due to poor rock conditions that vary continuously through mudstone, siltstone and soft sandstone,” says Malcolm Rankin, SMEC’s project manager for underground works.
Using the new Austrian tunnel method (NATM) of sequential excavation and support system – considered the most advanced tunnelling technology available in the world – Indian engineers have shown that they can beat the clock despite restrictive working conditions.
In the completed Jammu-Udhampur section of the stretch, for instance, four tube tunnels have been opened for traffic in January this year. The old road passing through the Nandini wildlife sanctuary had sharp curves, hairpin bends and steep grades. The new alignment through a series of bridges and tunnels bypasses the curvy road and cuts the distance to 3.6 km.
While the full impact of the ongoing works will be visible only after completion of all the six projects, evidence of how this will transform road journey can be seen as one travels through these ‘Nandini tunnels’. Interconnected through a series of bridges and viaducts, they not only cut the travel time and fuel waste but also minimise disturbance to the flora and fauna of the Nandini wildlife sanctuary, a tranquil haven that is also home to several endangered species.
Earlier it took two-and-a-half hours to travel between Jammu and Udhampur, and the two-lane highway over the distance of 64 km passed through the lofty mountain terrain and was wrought with blind curves. It now takes 64 minutes to cover the distance. The earlier speed limits were in the region of 25 to 30 kmph. Engineered to have fewer curves, the new highway allows speeds of up to 60 kmph.
Clear signs of feverish activity are visible as one drives through the NHAI projects on the highway. Engineers and workers are working 24×7 to meet deadlines in the four ongoing projects (Jammu-Udhampur, Chenai-Nashri, Qazigund-Banihal and Banihal-Srinagar) that are running behind the schedule. Meanwhile, work on the two new projects on four-laning of Udhampur-Ramban and Ramban-Banihal stretches of the highway that were approved by the cabinet committee on economic affairs headed by the prime minister last September as the government-funded projects has started in record time.
Meeting the engineering challenges to push up infrastructure deficit in Jammu and Kashmir is no doubt significant. But the real significance of the government’s ambitious plan lies in deploying roads as tools for socio-economic development in a state whose people feel that they have been a getting a raw deal in the national development agenda of the successive union governments. Filling this infrastructure in sectors like road can prove to be the beginning of a larger political project for emotional integration of people and their mainstreaming in the national political ethos.
The restructuring, realignment and four-laning of the Jammu-Srinagar highway have already spurred hectic road construction in the mountainous region. Roads form a critical component of the ‘80,000 crore development package for the state which prime minister Narendra Modi announced in November. In fact, more than half the amount, ‘42,611 crore, is dedicated to road and highway projects, including construction of the Zojila tunnel, semi-ring roads in Jammu and Srinagar, projects under Bharat Mala for better connectivity and upgradation of important highways.
Speedy implementation, however, is critical to translating these promises on the ground and, apart from facing engineering challenges, this will test the political will of the central and state governments. As the experience of ongoing projects on the Jammu-Srinagar highway shows, land acquisition remains a critical issue. Then there are social issues such as labour unrest, complaints about not enough local people being employed by construction firms and parity in their wages.