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The making of an engineering marvel

The 1.3-km railway bridge over Chenab will be world's highest

Sudheer Pal Singh  |  New Delhi 

When completed in 2016, the 1.3-km railway bridge over the Chenab will soar 359 meters above the river bed, 19 meters higher than France’s Tarn River bridge

Taking shape in Reasi, Jammu’s oldest district, is a mammoth next-generation technological marvel. When completed in 2016, it will be the highest-ever railway bridge in the world — a project in which a highly-skilled team of engineers, of both Indian and foreign origin, is involved.

The “sky-bridge”, as it is often called, is being constructed on the Chenab River upstream of the Salai dam between the villages of Bakkal and Kauri. The 1.3-km-long bridge is a part of the 73-km-long Katra-Dharam section of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project being executed to provide rail connectivity to the Kashmir valley.

The bridge will soar 359 meters over the river bed, six times the height of the Panvalnadi bridge in Maharashtra (the tallest so far in India), more than five times the height of the Qutub Minar and 35 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. At present, the world’s tallest rail bridge is on France’s Tarn River, with its tallest pillar rising 340 meters.

Rajesh TripathiKonkan Railway Corporation Ltd (KRCL), a public sector enterprise under the railway ministry, is executing the Rs 512 crore project for Northern Railway. Rajesh Tripathi, director (way & works) of KRCL, is controlling the Jammu & Kashmir project, of which the bridge is a part. Tripathi, 50, a civil engineer by training, is an officer of the Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE). Attached to his name is an unending list of qualifications and experience.

Some of the positions held by Tripathi in the past include those of project director in IRCON for Malaysia, executive director to the minister of state for railways, director (works) and director (track modernisation) in the railway ministry. Tripathi is a member of the Indian Institute of Bridge Engineers and has undergone specialised training in operation and maintenance of heavy haulage tracks in the US and Canada and special courses on track machines at Indian Railway Institute of Civil Engineers (IRICEN), Pune. He has been honoured with various awards and merit certificates by the government for “individual efficiency and commendable service”.

Rajesh AgarwalAfter Tripathi, supervising the project on the site is KRCL’s general manager (projects), Rajesh Agarwal, another civil engineer, trained at an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and an officer of the railway’s engineering service. Agarwal has been brought on deputation from KRCL especially for the J&K project. He is assisted by Mudit Bhatnagar, chief engineer (bridges) and P S Gupta, chief engineer (design). Bhatnagar is an officer of the 1988 batch of the IRSE, on deputation for the bridge project.

While KRCL is the executing agency, the bridge is being designed and constructed by Chenab Bridge Project Undertaking – a joint venture (JV) between AFCONS, Ultra Construction and Engineering Company of South Korea, and VSL India. The JV has further appointed two design consultants — WSP Consulting Kortes of Finland for bridge viaducts and foundations, and Leonhardt Andra & Partner of Germany for the main steel arch.

“In addition, a proof consultant from the UK has been appointed to re-verify the designs. Overall, it is a huge team of engineers, contractors and foreign consultants working on the project,” said a senior executive from KRCL. Explaining the logic behind heavy involvement of foreign companies, the executive, directly involved in the project work, said, “We found that the consultants and contractors for this kind of work available in India had only theoretical knowledge with minimum experience.”

Procuring highly skilled professionals for a project being built in challenging terrain, too, is not easy. “It is difficult to retain specialised people for such a project. So, we provide extra incentives and bonuses for our engineers associated with the project,” said D K Kunnar, senior vice president (projects) of AFCONS. At least 40 engineers of the company are deployed at the work site for the bridge project. “This is in addition to the foreign experts who keep visiting. The detailed design of the bridge has undergone many consultations,” Kunnar said.

The design of the 1.3-km-long bridge is divided into three segments — a 467-meter steel arch in the centre, a 185-meter approach deck from the Bakkal end and a 650-meter approach deck from the Kauri end. While the bridge will emerge from single track tunnels on both sides, it has been designed to accommodate a double track. Overall, the bridge will span 11 concrete and five steel pillars.

The construction, being carried out in geologically sensitive terrain, is testing the engineering and project skills of the executing team. What makes the project site conditions unique are strong winds that at times blow at speeds that exceed 266 kilometer per hour (kmph), location of the site in a highly active seismic zone, possibility of terrorist attacks and continuous monitoring.

It is not a surprise, therefore, that experts from as many as 15 prime Indian agencies -- including the IITs; Indian Institute of Science (IISC); Research, Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO); Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) -- and an equal number of foreign contractors are grappling with the daunting task of erecting the mega bridge.

“The paint being used for the bridge is being procured from Japan. It has been approved by the RDSO and can withstand weather extremes for 35 years, as compared to five years for which a normal paint lasts. With a project of this magnitude, everything we do becomes a world-record,” a KRCL executive said.

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First Published: Tue, June 14 2011. 00:39 IST