Afcons Infrastructure Limited (Afcons), a prominent infrastructure company in India, has achieved a significant milestone in the Udhampur Srinagar Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project by completing India’s longest railway tunnel. Spanning an impressive 12.75 kilometres through the Pir Panjal ranges, Tunnel T49 is an engineering marvel that is set to revolutionise connectivity in the region.

The USBRL project, initiated by the Indian Railways, aims to connect Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, providing safer and faster transportation options for both locals and the armed forces. With a total length of 272 kilometres, the railway line will serve as a vital all-weather route to facilitate transportation to the forward areas.

Tunnel T49, located in the Dharam-Quazigund section, is a crucial link in the Banihal-Udhampur stretch, connecting the Samber and Arpinchala stations in the Ramban district. This single-tube tunnel will accommodate passenger and goods trains, offering improved travel efficiency and convenience.

Afcons successfully executed Package T49B, which comprised a 7.6-kilometre stretch of the tunnel, an escape tunnel of the same length, two adits, 20 cross-passages, two bridges, and the Arpinchala Station yard, among other structures. The company employed the New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM), utilising a drill and blast technique to overcome the challenging terrain.

Himalayan terrain under which the tunnel runs (Photo: Afcons)

Chandra Shekhar Dixit, Project Manager at Afcons, explained the strategic approach adopted by the team, stating: “We prioritised the excavation of adits, which provided four faces for main and escape tunnel excavation, allowing us to progress rapidly.” This approach enabled the team to achieve remarkable progress within a record timeframe.

The rugged Himalayan landscape presented numerous challenges during the project. Constructing a tunnel with a downward gradient posed a unique obstacle, but Afcons overcame this by excavating the tunnel from the North Portal at an altitude of 1600 metres to the South Portal at 1200 metres. Overcoming water ingress and maintaining the pouring rate of overt gantry concrete were significant achievements.

Ensuring ventilation within the tunnel was another major hurdle, compounded by multiple fault zones and varying ground conditions. Afcons employed innovative measures such as drilling pressure relief holes and installing Swellex bolts to ensure the safety and integrity of the tunnel.

Entrance of Tunnel T49 (Photo: Afcons)

The team demonstrated resilience and adaptability in the face of adverse weather conditions and landslides that threatened project progress, according to Afcons. Through meticulous planning, prompt action, and unwavering determination, the team successfully overcame these obstacles, displaying exceptional mental fortitude.

The USBRL project has also contributed to local skill development and community empowerment. Afcons employed 80 percent of the workforce locally, providing training and transforming many individuals into skilled welders, electricians, and plumbers. This initiative has not only supported the project’s goals but has also contributed to the socio-economic growth of the region.

Inside Tunnel T49 (Photo: Afcons)

The project team also implemented lean construction practices, ensuring the completion of the project with an impressive safety record of 10.6 million safe man-hours, the company said. This achievement underscores the company’s unwavering commitment to the well-being of its workforce and reaffirms Afcons’ position as a leader in the industry.

With the completion of Tunnel T49, Afcons Infrastructure Limited has reached a remarkable milestone in the USBRL project, marking a significant leap forward in India’s infrastructure development and connectivity. The successful execution of this engineering feat sets the stage for enhanced transportation and socio-economic growth in the region.