Imphal/Agartala: India’s northeast region is the 6th most quake-prone belt in the world, the soil of the young Himalayan region is fragile and due to the heavy monsoon, the working season is very less. However, despite these challenges the world’s tallest railway bridge is being built in Manipur’s Noney mountainous valley as part of the 111 km-long Jiribam-Imphal new railway line.
The giant bridge is being constructed since 2015 in Tamenglong district in western Manipur at a cost of Rs 3.74 billion as an essential part of the Rs 143.2 billion broad gauge railway lines that would connect the Manipur capital Imphal by December 2023.
The Manipur railway projects’ Chief Engineer Sandeep Sharma said that the northeast region is the 6th most quake-prone belt in the world, the soil of the young Himalayan region is weak and due to the heavy monsoon for a longer period, working season is very less in the hilly region.
“Despite numerous odds, challenges and problems of transportation of the construction material, around 60 per cent work on the oversized bridge has been completed and the entire work would be finished in August next year,” Sharma told IANS over phone.
He said considering the geographical condition and the quake threat, the structure of the bridge has been designed accordingly and expertise from various international consultants and IITs in India, including IIT Kharagpur, has been obtained. Various expert committees have also been formed for guidance.
“The 111 km-long Jiribam-Imphal railway line will reduce travel time from the existing 10-12 hours to 2.5 hours,” the chief engineer said.
After the completion of the railway line (Jiribam-Imphal) by 2023, Manipur capital Imphal would be the fourth capital city in the mountainous northeastern region to be connected after Assam’s main city of Guwahati (adjoining capital Dispur), Tripura capital Agartala and Arunachal Pradesh’s Naharlagun (adjacent to capital city Itanagar).
The North-East Frontier Railways (NFR) is laying tracks to connect the capital cities of two more northeastern states -- Mizoram and Nagaland.
There is no precise plan of the NFR when Meghalaya capital Shillong and Sikkim capital Gangtok would come on the railway network as railway construction work has not started in the two northeastern states.
NFR Chief Public Relations Officer Guneet Kaur said that the NFR (Construction) organisation will build eight new station buildings, 11 major bridges, 134 minor bridges, four road overbridges, 12 road underbridges and a record length of over 71,066 metre of tunnelling.
Another NFR official said that various issues related to timely completion of the project were discussed by all stakeholders.
The timely completion of this project is very crucial for further extending rail connectivity to Myanmar in the future, in keeping with the “Act East Policy” of the Indian government, the official said.
A senior engineer of the NFR (construction wing) said that for the first time in India, a safety tunnel for the safe evacuation of people during any emergency at tunnel number 12 has been constructed on the Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal railway line which is significant as the section would have the tallest bridge in the world and the longest railway tunnel in India.
Completion of the project will expose the rich culture of Manipur to the world, he said.
The 11.55 km long tunnel number 12 is the longest railway tunnel in India on the Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal railway line and is longer than the famous Pir Panjal tunnel (8.5 km) on the Banihal-Qazigund line in Jammu and Kashmir.
The approximate cost for construction of this tunnel, which lies in the two districts of Manipur, Senapati and Imphal West, and is situated in the western part of the Imphal Valley, would be Rs 9.3 billion.
“For the safe evacuation of people during any emergency at tunnel number 12, a parallel 9.35 km long safety tunnel has been constructed as per international technical specifications. The main tunnel and parallel safety tunnel will be connected through cross passages at every 500 meters. Rs 3.68 billion was spent to construct the safety tunnel,” the engineer said.
The Jiribam-Tupul-Imphal broad gauge railway project was taken up in 2008 and was declared a “National Project” owing to its importance.
The first train in the north-east region chugged out from the industrial city of Dibrugarh in eastern Assam around 140 years ago.
The NFR, one among the 17 railway zones in India, operates fully and partially in six of the eight northeastern states, excluding Meghalaya and Sikkim, and in seven districts of West Bengal and five districts of north Bihar.
The NFR engineers said the landscape, soil conditions and other natural challenges have forced the railways to invest more money and to confront diverse challenges in the northeastern region.
“Soil or earth-bearing capacity of the northeastern region is much less compared to other parts of the country. But for the railway engineers, nothing is impossible,” the NFR engineer claimed.