New Delhi, Jan 24 : Union Minister of Road, Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday urged infra major IL (and) FS to explore the possibility of laying a rail alignment while constructing India's longest tunnel highway at Zojila in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL (and) FS) had in July last year got the contract for building the 14.1 km Zojila Highway tunnel.
"Gadkariji has urged IL (and) FS to explore the possibility of laying a rail alignment also in the tunnel as per Prime Minister's suggestion and also asked them to complete the work faster than the assigned seven years," said a ministry official.
The official also informed that the IL (and) FS had assured the minister that the idea of a railway line would be explored using the escape tunnel which would be built as part of the project as a safety measure in case of any accident inside the tunnel.
Gadkari was speaking at the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the project sanctioning government agency National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL) and the IL (and) FS.
Zojila Pass, located at a height of 12,000 feet, is on National Highway-1 between Srinagar and Leh in the western section of the Himalayan mountain range.
The two-way tunnel, touted as South Asia's longest when ready, will reduce travel time from three hours to a mere 15 minutes.
The tunnel would have some unique features like pedestrian safety passages every 250 metres and vehicular safety passage at every 750 metres.
The road inside the tunnel will also have other features like lay-bys -- an area at the side where vehicles may pull off and stop -- and emergency telephone and communication systems at emergency exits at intervals of 125 metres.
The tunnel, which will provide a new lifeline to the locals in terms of road connectivity, will also have internal and external lighting, CCTV cameras, emergency guidance lamps and proper vehicle guidance systems.
It will also be equipped to tackle fire incidents.
The Zojila Pass remains snow-bound for most part of the year, rendering road connectivity with Ladakh impossible for seven to eight months.
The pass is not just vital for the locals but strategically crucial for the security of India's northern frontier.