Consultant to study stability of old Pamban rail bridge

The Railway Board has given its nod to appoint a consultant to study the strength of the century old Pamban rail bridge, even as Southern Railway General Manager Rakesh Misra expressed concern over the strength of the bridge, stating it has suffered lot of corrosion and may have a life span of just 10 to 15 years.

“The bridge is corroded… We have to take a decision to restore it or do something about it,” Mr Misra told reporters on Monday after inspecting the bridge and the repair works done by the engineers after a barge crashed into the bridge, damaging the 121st pier.

Ruling out the opening of the Scherzer’s span twice a week to allow ships, barges and other vessels to pass through the bridge, Mr Misra said opening the span once a week itself was becoming difficult “as it required 10 to 12 people to crank it.

“The Scherzer’s span mechanism is the only existing unique mechanism in the world. The mechanism is too old and too difficult to operate,” he added.

Mr Misra commended the Railway Engineers for carrying out the repair work at the bridge after a barge crashed into it, damaging a pier. The temporary pier was in good shape and a permanent pier would be built within two months.

The Southern Railway has filed a case against the owners of the barge, claiming a compensation of Rs 1.5 crore and the matter is sub judice.

Divisional Railway Manager A. K. Rastogi, who was present, said the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has been moved to expedite the judicial process.

Meanwhile, sources said the Railway Board has sanctioned Rs 5.5 crore for engaging a consultant to study the strength of the bridge and suggest other alternatives, whether a new bridge should be built or the existing one could be given a face lift and strengthened.

The Southern Railway would invite global tenders to fix a renowned agency to undertake the study. Admitting that the bridge had a limited life span, the sources said it would be too early to talk about construction of new bridge.

“It needs expertise at different level and the consultant agency would explore all the options,” the sources added.

Honour for Kalam

The Southern Railway would honour former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and renowned Engineer “Metro” Sreedharan at the centenary celebrations of Pamban rail bridge to be held next February, its General Manager Rakesh Misra has said.

The Southern Railway proposed to organise an elaborate function in February next year, when the Pamban rail bridge, an engineering marvel and India’s first cantilever bridge would complete 100 years, Mr Misra told reporters on Monday. The 2.06 km long bridge was thrown open to traffic on February 27, 1914, providing the much needed rail connectivity to the pilgrim centre of Rameswaram.

The rail bridge threatened to become defunct, when the Indian Railways announced the “uni-gauge” policy in 2006.

The Railways considered a proposal to construct a new bridge, but gave up the idea as it would cost a whopping Rs.700 crore.

When the Railways were in a dilemma, the former President had suggested that the existing bridge could be strengthened for gauge conversion.

After obtaining experts opinion from IIT-Chennai and structural engineers, the bridge was strengthened to broad gauge standard and train services resumed in 2007.

Similarly, the strength of the bridge was put to test for the first time in December 1964, when a severe cyclonic storm hit this part of the area, E Sreedharan, famously known as ‘Delhi Metro Sreedhar’, the then Assistant Engineer came to its rescue.All the girders, both RCC and steel were washed away in the cyclonic storm. Two of the 141 piers also damaged, but a team of engineers, led by Mr Sreedharan salvaged the girders and put the bridge back on the rails in just five months.

Both Mr Kalam, who was then President and Mr Sreedharan had a role to play in the bridge, the General Manager said.