ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno
The world's highest railway bridge, which surpasses the Eiffel Tower by some 29 metres, is intended to strengthen links between Kashmir and the rest of India. The new Chenab Rail Bridge spans the river of the same name at a height of 359 metres from the riverbed. We take a look at the construction of this steel arch megastructure designed to withstand high wind speeds—up to 266 kilometres per hour—and maximum seismic forces.
A bridge to withstand earthquakes and explosions
The new railway bridge is 1,315 metres long and connects Bakkal and Kauri. The basic construction was completed in August 2022, and the track-laying work was finished in March 2023. Scheduled to enter service in 2024, the bridge is expected to have a lifespan of around 120 years. Its builders say that strength is the feature that sets this mega-structure apart. In fact, Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, Union Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology in India, claims that it is strong enough to withstand an earthquake measuring eight on the Richter scale.
In total, more than 28,000 metric tonnes of steel were used in its construction. This material was chosen because it was "more economical and will be able to resist temperatures of -20°C and wind speeds exceeding 200km/h," according to the website Railway Technology. The Jammu and Kashmir region, where the bridge is located, has been the scene of several terrorist attacks, so its concrete pillars were designed to be blast-proof.
To construct the bridge, 28,000 metric tonnes of steel were used. Credit: National Geographic India
A major civil engineering challenge
The mega-structure is part of a larger 272 km rail link project, which includes the construction of several railway bridges and tunnels in very mountainous terrain. The Financial Express reports that the whole project will cost around 279.49 billion rupees, or more than three billion euros, and the bridge itself around 165 million euros. It is the "biggest civil engineering challenge faced by any railway project in India in recent history," according to The Indian Express website.
The bridge has 17 spans (the length from one pylon to the next) and includes a 469 metre long main arch that spans the 974 kilometre-long Chenab River. Two enormous pylons, 130 and 100 metres high, were erected on either side of the deep river valley, and two auxiliary cable cranes were mounted on the pylons to support the steel arch with cables during the construction phase. When the arch was completed in April 2021, the cranes and cables were removed and the pylons now help support the bridge deck.
Vaishnaw says the design of the foundations, which cover an area the size of half a football pitch, was an engineering challenge. Care was taken during construction not to disrupt the natural course of the river to ensure the water supply to nearby villages.
The aim is for the bridge to be commissioned in 2024 and have a lifespan of around 120 years. Credit: Twitter / Sambit Patra
A historic link for Kashmir
Three countries—India, Pakistan and China—share the region of Kashmir, known for its mountainous landscapes, lakes and valleys. Before the Chenab Bridge was built, there was only one national highway linking the Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir with the rest of the country. But not only is this road prone to accidents, it is also closed for part of the winter. "Once we are connected by train with the rest of India, it will be a big boost to this industry, agriculture as well as fruit," Anil Kumar Mehendru, vice-president of the New Kashmir Fruit Association, told CNN.
This mega-structure can also be "a means of integrating Kashmir into India", says Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in India. However, it remains to be seen whether Kashmiris view the construction of this bridge positively, as according to Singh, in recent years the region "has been undermined by policies taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government, which have really alienated Kashmiris." For now, we will have to wait and see if this bridge marks a turning point in the integration of this mountainous region into India.
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