Track II behind Banihal: Men who weathered every obstacle & went beyond the call of duty

Given the approach to the Srinagar Airport and the size of it, the coaches had to come by road — 294 km. Dry runs were done with custommade 32-wheeled trailers towed by 10-wheeled trucks driven at walking speed to check if the roads were wide enough. But the real challenge was the Jawahar Tunnel. Bogies mounted atop the trucks were far higher than the height of the tunnel. So the engineers’ first move was to separate the wheel-base from the compartment. That ensured that the bottom halves made it through.

However, when the passenger carriages were put back on the trucks, they still overshot the clearance by a precious few inches. The tunnel couldn’t be altered, nor could the steel frames of the coaches be cut. The eureka moment? The decision to deflate the trailer tyres! All 32 of them. That ensured they cleared the tunnel, but the heavy loads resulted in mangled tyres and rims that had to be replaced once they emerged on the other side.

This was repeated for every bogie. Practically every aspect of the project demanded more than professional competence from the railway teams. And they rose to the occasion, weathering extreme temperatures and living in a fraught, dangerous environment where armed forces garrisons were emblazoned with signs such as ‘Stay alert, stay alive’. Just doing their job, would you say?

Yet, the government accord them no official appreciation. Forget Padma awards or gallantry medals, there was no public appreciation of their effort either. Would the prime minister, Mrs Gandhi and the J&K chief minister at least publicly felicitate ALL those involved in this mammoth and unique project — both the Kashmir Railway and the Banihal Tunnel?

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