World’s longest Highway tunnel, the Atal Tunnel, which spans 9.2 kilometers under the Rohtang Pass of the Pir Panjal range connecting Manali to Leh via the Lahaul-Spiti Valley, two extremely strategically important areas for India, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the southern end of the tunnel. The tunnel is state-of-the-art with semi transverse ventilation, SCADA controlled fire fighting systems, illumination and monitoring.
The tunnel which was laid down by the then Prime Minister of India, Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002,and was subsequently named Atal Tunnel in his remembrance by PM Modi last year reduces the travel distance from Manali to Leh by 46 kilometers, shaving off about 4 to 5 hours of travel time. The tunnel was handed to Border Roads Organisation, post project delays and cost overruns the project was handed to an Australian firm named Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation which made no progress for over a year after which a joint venture between AFCONS Infra ltd, Shapoorji Pallonji Group and Austrian STRABAG AG in 2009 with some other work contracted to Spar Geo Infra Pvt Ltd.
A project which took 18 years,10 years of construction, out of which the last six years amounted to 90% work (1300 meters completed till 2013) was completed at a cost of about INR 3,200 Crores. PM Modi lauded the efforts of BRO personnel, engineers, private contractors and workers who risked their lives in the treacherous terrain and weather over the years to make the finest tunnel which will prove to be more than beneficial for the region and the country for countless years to come. He mentioned that the tunnel would prove to be a game-changer for the economic growth in Himachal and the Union Territory of Leh-Ladakh, and for the armed forces which would be further supplemented by an all weather road supply chain which was not dependent on the aerial routes. He expressed his disappointment that the project which was expected to cost INR 900 crores went to cost more than three times that and almost a decade late.
BRO along with other private contractors worked tirelessly to make the engineering marvel, using 12,252 metric tons of steel, 1,69,436 metric tons of cement and 1,01,336 metric tons of concrete while needing to excavate about 5,05,264 metric tonnes of earth, which was done using the advanced Austrian tunnelling method. An army of workers and engineers, more than 3000 strong, who hailed from Bihar, Jharkhand and Nepal worked on the marvel.
The tunnel has a telephone for emergencies every 150 metres, a fire hydrant every 60 metres, emergency exits which was also visited by the PM on every 500 metre of the stretch, turning cavern every 2.2 kilometers, air quality detectors every kilometer, broadcast system, CCTV every 250m and a very advanced incident detection system. The tunnel connecting to Keylong is turning point, as Leh is cut off from the rest of the world for 6 months during winters owing to heavy snowfall and is only accessible via the Air Force’s aircraft, the tunnel is an all weather tunnel and has already been in use for emergency patient transport for over a year if helicopters were unavailable.
The tunnel proves to be a decisive piece of infrastructure amid heated Indo-China relations and is a massive boost to the Army and Air Force’s operations in the area, with a capacity to enable movement of 1500 Army trucks per day in all conditions year long, making the need to stock supplies needless.
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