The world’s longest motorable tunnel, the Atal Tunnel at Rohtang, at an altitude of over 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) is ready to open. At a time when India is facing border issues with China in Ladakh, the tunnel can be crucial in defending the country and will allow mobility of defence forces in case of a prolonged standoff.
Completed at a cost of Rs 3,200 crore against the sanctioned budget of Rs 4,083 crore, the tunnel will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Named after late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the 9.02-km long tunnel passes under the Rohtang Pass in the eastern Pir Panjal range on the Leh-Manali highway. It will reduce the distance between Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Leh in Ladakh by 46 kilometres and save over four hours of travel time.
Project chief engineer K P Purushothman said electrical and mechanical works inside the tunnel were working fine. “We are happy that the tunnel has been completed at a cost of Rs 3,200 crore. The tunnel is an engineering marvel in the Himalayas at an altitude of 10,040ft and has already set the record of being the longest motorable tunnel of the world at this altitude,” he said.
Engineers are re-testing the automated lighting and ventilation systems, fire hydrants, pumps, phones and various sensors for fitting inside the tunnel before the inauguration. There are fire hydrants at every 60 metres, emergency exit tunnels at every 500 metres, turning cavern every 2.2km and air quality monitoring every 1km, Besides the emergency telephone booths at regular intervals, there is a broadcasting system and automatic incident detection system with CCTV cameras every 250 metres.
The tunnel , which is 10.5 metres wide and has a height of 5.52 metres, has a footpath of 1 metre on both sides. With a maximum speed of 80kmph, the tunnel is expected to see traffic of 3,000 cars and 1,500 trucks a day.
- The tunnel was conceived by the Indira Gandhi government in 1983
- But it was much later in 2002 that the Vajpayee government declared a tunnel would be constructed
- The project began to move only in September 2009
- A joint venture of Shapoorji Pallonji Group-run Afcons and Strabag of Austria won the Engineering Procurement and Construction tender for Rs 1,458 crore from BRO in 2009
Project director Colonel Parikshit Mehra said the tunnel is being supplied with 11KVA of electricity to power equipment. “In case of power failure, we have UPS support besides power generators. There is no chance of the tunnel losing power. It has jawdropping features and safety equipment. We are proud of being part of this prestigious project, which has attracted worldwide attention. The ultra-modern tunnel at such a treacherous location has added the largest feather to BRO’s cap. Now, we are confident that we can build any kind of tunnel anywhere in the Himalayas,” he said.
The foundation stone of the tunnel was laid on June 28, 2010. The tunnel was completed in a span of 10 years against the original estimate time of six years. Besides becoming a tourist destination, it will providing much-needed year-round connectivity to residents of Lahaul valley that used to be cut off from the rest of the country for nearly six months due to heavy snowfall. Altitudes in Ladakh range from “high to super-high altitude” and there is a lot of snowfall – up to 40 feet after November.