Banihal and its tunnels

Banihal

This is the station at Banihal, a somewhat nondescript place but an important point on the way from Jammu to Kashmir. In the vicinity we have:

  1. The longest railway tunnel in India, which is likely to remain the longest in the foreseeable future.
  2. For the moment, the longest road tunnel in India though it is likely to lose this position some time in 2016, and
  3. In a few years, a new road tunnel which will be among the longest in India. It will replace the existing road tunnel.

Let us take a closer look at these. The Pir Panjal rail tunnel was opened for traffic in 2013 and links Banihal with Qazigund (though there is a smaller station at Hillal Shahabad just north of the tunnel). This tunnel is 11.2 km long. The next longest rail tunnel is the Karbude tunnel on the Konkan line which is a mere 6.5 km long.

More about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pir_Panjal_Railway_Tunnel

It may be noted that the distance by rail between Banihal and Qazigund is 17 km as compared to 35 km by road.

If you travel by road, you would cross the Jawahar Tunnel which at 2.85 km is the longest road tunnel functioning in India at the time of writing. It was opened in 1956. More about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jawahar_Tunnel

This map gives an idea of the distance saved by the rail tunnel. Its ends are marked by the little gold stars.

Banihal rail

The long straight portion of road seen slightly to the right of centre marks the Jawahar tunnel.

However, that is not the end of the tunnel story for Banihal as a new road tunnel 8.45 km long is expected to be opened within a short time:

“New double road tunnel

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 two tunnels are interconnected by a passage every 500 metres 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.

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 vehicles will have to pay toll tax to use the tunnel.

Most of the boring has been completed.”

This will probably be the third longest road tunnel in India, after the so called Patnitop bypass (9.2 km) in the Jammu region and the Rohtang tunnel (8.8 km) in Himachal Pradesh which are all likely to be functioning by 2017 if not earlier.

 

 

The rail tunnel in Baluchistan which appeared on a currency note

The Khojak tunnel on the way from Quetta to Chaman on the Afghan border was one of the earlier marvels of railway engineering in British India. Opened in 1892, it was 12,870 feet long (2.44 miles/3.92 km) and was the longest rail tunnel in South Asia until the Konkan Railway came along over a century later.

The location of most lines in Baluchistan can be seen here: (Kandahar is a little beyond the border at Chaman).

Bolan

The story of the alternative routes to Quetta is a long and complicated one and will have to wait till another day. Suffice to say that that the Bolan route involved gradients of 1:25 for several miles which was far more severe than any BG or MG main line anywhere else in undivided India. And double tracks were also used because of the slow speeds although there was little passenger traffic north of Quetta.

You may note a station called Hindubagh on the NG line to Fort Sandeman. As you may guess, it became Muslimbagh while the terminus became Zhob before the line closed around 1990.

You can also see the long lonely line to Zahidan in Iran starting off from Spezand. With luck, it has been running passenger trains twice a month for the last few years.

The southern end of the Khojak tunnel started near Shelabagh station. Note the double line though the tunnel.

Khojak

And this scene appeared on earlier Pakistani currency notes:

Pak note Khojak

(This note was in circulation from 1976 to 2005.)

A longer article about this tunnel can be seen here:

http://pakistaniat.com/2006/12/18/railways-khojak-tunnel/

This site (which became inactive in 2011) contains a number of other articles about Pakistan’s railways by Owais Mughal.