SOURCE: Times Now

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurates and throws open the Atal Tunnel for the general public on Saturday, he will have not only provided a means to make travel closer for the masses, but also strategically brought the Line of Actual Control closer.

The all-weather Atal Tunnel reduces the distance between Manali in Himachal Pradesh and Leh by 46 kilometres, bringing the travel time down to 4-5 hours.

Modi, accompanied by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, will inaugurate the tunnel at Rohtang and later attend public gatherings at Sissu in Lahaul Spiti and at Solang Valley.

In these times of heightened tensions along the border with China, and the treacherous winter season fast approaching, it is extremely important to fix the logistical lacuna for our security forces and the Atal Tunnel would do just that, and much more.

The 9.02-km long tunnel, the longest highway tunnel in the world, connects Manali and the Lahaul-Spiti valley throughout the year, which earlier was cut off for nearly six months every year due to heavy snowfall.

The Atal Tunnel has been designed for traffic density of 3,000 cars per day and 1,500 trucks per day with max speed of 80 kms/hour, a critical factor especially if the situation worsens along the border and additional troops need to be sent to LAC.

It has been built with ultra-modern specifications in the Pir Panjal range of Himalayas at an altitude of 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) from the mean sea level (MSL).

The South Portal of the Atal Tunnel is located at a distance of 25 kilometres from Manali at an altitude of 3,060 metres, while the North Portal of the tunnel is located near village Teling, Sissu, in Lahaul Valley at an altitude of 3,071 metres.

It is horseshoe-shaped, single-tube double lane tunnel with a roadway of 8 metres, and has an overhead clearance of 5.525 metres. The tunnel is 10.5-metres wide and has a 3.6 x 2.25 metres fire proof emergency egress tunnel built into the main tunnel itself.

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government had taken the decision to construct the strategic tunnel below the Rohtang Pass on 3 June 2000, and the foundation stone for the access road to the south portal was laid on 26 May 2002.

“The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) worked relentlessly to overcome major geological, terrain and weather challenges that included the most difficult stretch of the 587-metre Seri Nalah Fault Zone. The breakthrough from both ends was achieved on October 15, 2017,” the Prime Minister said in a statement.

After the prime minister arrives at the Centre for Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) in Kullu, he will make a pit stop at a BRO guesthouse before proceeding to the venue.