Kalam inaugurates Centenary Celebrations of Pamban Bridge

kalam pambanPamban (PBM): The iconic Pamban railway bridge at the southern tip of India completed 100 years with the centenary celebrations inaugurated by Bharat Ratna Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India at Pamban railway station in Ramanathapuram District on Tuesday. A long-time resident of Rameswaram and former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam inaugurated the Centenary Celebrations of the Pamban Railway Bridge — India’s first cantilever bridge, connecting the pilgrim-island of Rameswaram with the mainland. He turned nostalgic as a two-coach special train took him from Mandapam across the bridge. “Pamban bridge is part of my life,” Mr.Kalam said. As a young boy, he had travelled hundreds of times on the bridge to take newspapers to the island for distribution.

Mr. Kalam unveiled a plaque and released a book Marvels of South Indian Railway, marking the inauguration of the nearly month-long celebrations.  Mr. Kalam had also played a vital role in preserving the bridge. After the Railways announced its uni-gauge policy in 2006, and almost gave up gauge conversion at the bridge, he brought in IIT-Madras expertise to thrash out an engineering solution.

Southern Railway General Manager Rakesh Misra said the bridge was an engineering marvel that had withstood corrosion and a violent sea for over a century. The 65.23-metre-long rolling central lift span (the bridge is 2.06 km long), named after Scherzer, German engineer who designed and built the span, has been given a fresh coat of paint and decorated with lights. It opens up like a pair of scissors to allow vessels to pass through under the bridge.

The bridge is unique in the sense that its two spans open up to allow ships to pass under it. Another interesting feature of this is that a device fitted on the bridge warns railway officials if the wind speeds exceed 58kmph and trains are stopped from using the bridge. “An anemometer fixed at 56th pier over the bridge records the velocity of the wind and whenever the velocity of the wind exceeds 58 kmph, trains are not allowed over the bridge. This is ensured by suitable connectivity to the approach signals from the anemometer,” a senior official told.

The historic and famous Pamban railway bridge has completed 100 years of existence. This bridge, which is a great tourist attraction, is located between Mandapam and Pamban railway stations in Madurai – Rameswaram section of Madurai Division of Southern Railway. The Pamban Railway bridge connects the Rameswaram island to the main land.

The Pamban railway bridge was constructed between August 1910 and December 1913. The 2054.35 m long bridge consists of 145 spans of 40 feet steel girders and 1 span of 218 feet steel truss consisting of 2 lifting type of cantilever trusses. This span has been named after Scherzer, the Engineer who designed and executed this span. Works on the Scherzer span commenced in July 1913 and were completed in December 1913. A unique feature of this span is that it can be opened for the movement of boats / vessels by lifting the cantilever span for a maximum of 81 degrees in vertical plane. The Pamban Railway bridge was opened on 24th February, 1914 by Mr. Neville Priestley, MD, South Indian Railway Company Ltd. Railway traffic was opened in February, 1914 by the then South Indian Railway Company to facilitate transport between India and Ceylon.

With the help of Pamban Railway bridge, railway line reached Rameswaram island and extended upto Dhanushkodi, a place of pilgrimage at the eastern tip of Rameswaram island. Shipping services were operated between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar, a terminus of Ceylon Railway System. Regular steamer services were operated between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar as a part of Railway (Managing) System to carry passengers and goods between India and Ceylon.

Rakesh Misra, General Manager, Southern Railway welcomed the gathering and said that Bharat Ratna Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was a living legend. During his inspiring speech attended by a large number of students and the public, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said that though Rameswaram was his birth place Pamban was his favourite. He wanted Southern Railway to introduce ‘Pamban Express’ between Chennai Egmore – Rameswaram with a refrigerated coach that would facilitate export of fish. He admired the engineering marvel that is Pamban Railway Bridge and appreciated the efforts of railway men who were responsible for the construction of the bridge. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam later unveiled a commemorative plaque and released a book titled ‘Marvels of South Indian Railway.’ Shri. A.K. Rastogi, Divisional Railway Manager, Madurai Division delivered the vote of thanks. Shri. K. Shivakumar alias J.K. Ritheesh, Hon’ble MP was the distinguished guest while Dr. M.H. Jawahirullah, M.L.A. graced the occasion as guest of honour.

Initially, it was decided to construct a new bridge meeting broad gauge standards. To execute this project, global consultancy tenders were called for. Multi-national organizations submitted their offers to carry out the construction of a new bridge at an estimated cost of Rs.800 crores. However, Railway Engineers, along with technical experts from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and the Government of Tamil Nadu, conducted a detailed survey and recommended the conversion of the existing bridge to broad gauge standards instead of construction of a new bridge. Accordingly, strengthening, replacement and improvement works to Pamban railway bridge were carried out at an approximate cost of Rs.24 crores.

Upon completion of the gauge conversion works, the Manamadurai – Rameswaram Broad Gauge section, in which the historic Pamban railway bridge is situated, was opened for traffic on 12th August, 2007.

The humid atmosphere coupled with a high degree of salinity in the region demands constant monitoring and maintenance of the steel girders of the bridge. All efforts are being taken and requirements met to keep the bridge fit. This grand old bridge which remains sturdy, braving the elements for a century, is surely one of its kind. The pride of Indian Railways, the Pamban railway bridge is indeed an engineering marvel !

Villagers want introduction of Pamban Express

Villagers of Pamban on Tuesday appealed to the railway authorities to operate an additional train between Rameswaram and Chennai and name it as Pamban Express. Former President, A P J Abdul Kalam made the representation to the railway authorities during the function on behalf of the people asking for Pamban Express with a refrigerated goods wagon attached to transport fishes from the island. The villagers in fact submitted a series of demands to the visiting railway officials. They also appealed to raise the height of the platform in the station and renovate it to modern standards.

Except Chennai Express and passenger trains, other important trains do not stop at Pamban though there is larger passenger patronage from the station, said M Patrick, panchayat president of Pamban. “We request the railway authorities to provide stoppages for all the trains crossing Pamban,” he said. Further, the villagers also urged the railways to revive the Coimbatore – Rameswaram Daily Express that ran before the gauge conversion. There is a weekly train at present and the villagers are asking for a daily train with refrigerated wagons to transport fishes.

“The weekly catch of the fish caught in the island is more than 150 tonnes. We need train facilities to transport such volume of fish to other destinations,” said Patrick.

Railway authorities have already agreed to improve the station since it was selected as Adarsh station last year. “We want the railways to support us like before and we placed our appeals through Abdul Kalam during the function,” Patrick added.