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Iconic rail bridge that 'opens up' for ships completes a centenary

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 - 11:15pm IST | Agency: dna

The iconic Pamban railway bridge at the southern tip of India completed 100 years with the centenary celebrations being inaugurated by Bharat Ratna Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India at Pamban railway station in Ramanathapuram District on Tuesday.

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 DNA.

The historic and famous Pamban railway bridge has almost 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 !


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