Saturday, 8 October 2011

Howrah Bridge in Kolkata- Day 2

Located over the Hooghly River, Howrah Bridge is said to be the busiest bridge in the world. It got its name maybe because it connects Howrah with Calcutta. Also known as Rabindra Setu, the bridge was set up in 1874. It stands on two 270 feet high pillars and is 1528 feet long and 131 feet wide.

Toll gate

I couldn’t believe my eyes when the driver told us that it is a cantilever truss bridge, means constructed without using any nuts and bolts! He also said that it had a tram route earlier.

Originally named as the New Howrah Bridge and renamed as Rabindra Setu after great poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1965, the bridge has three sister bridges -- Vidyasagar Setu, Vivekananda Setu and Nivedita Setu -- that are situated at different points over the Hooghly river.

The bridge, sixth longest bridge of its type in the world, supposedly gets traffic of more than 80,000 vehicles and over 1 lakh pedestrians every day. Just imagine the strength of the bridge. When I first saw the ad ‘Steel for Life’, directed by Manoj Pillai of Thinkpot Productions, where Vij worked earlier, I could just say ‘wow’. What a perfect location to show the strength of steel! Watch it to believe it.

I came to know that the construction of the New Howrah Bridge started in 1937. Engineers felts that cantilever bridges were more rigid than suspension bridges and lo, we got one of the finest cantilever bridges in the world as a gift. Looking into the various aspects like navigational, hydraulics, tidal conditions of Hooghly River and the projected traffic conditions, Rendel Palmer and Tritton designed a cantilever bridge of 1,500 feet, with a 71 feet wide roadway and two 15 feet wide cantilever footways. The contract was awarded to Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co. Ltd of Darlington, with a strong recommendation that they use Indian-made steel. Of the total 26,500 tonnes of steel used, Tata Iron and Steel Company supplied 23,500 tonness of steel and fabrication was done by Braithwaite, Burn and Jessop Co. at four different shops in Calcutta.

Rabindra Setu
The story doesn’t stop here, the interesting part comes ahead. The two huge caissons which were sunk during the first stage of construction still remain the largest sunk caissons on land. The job of sinking the caissons was carried out round-the-clock at a rate of a foot or more per day. One night, during the process of grabbing out the muck to enable the caisson to move, the ground below it yielded and the entire mass plunged two feet, shaking the ground. The impact of this was so intense that the seismograph at Khidirpore registered it as an earthquake and a Hindu temple on the shore was destroyed, although it was subsequently rebuilt. In spite of these challenging situations the caissons were placed true to position. After completing the steel work of the deck and concreting of roadway, the New Howrah Bridge was opened to traffic in February 1943. The old Floating Pontoon Bridge was decommissioned. In May 1946, the daily traffic count was taken and it got 27,400 vehicles, 121,100 pedestrians and 2,997 cattle. The rate of vehicular traffic alone passing over the bridge was 20% greater than that on London Bridge in the same period, which was at the time the busiest bridge in that metropolis!

Then the driver took us to Esplanade for lunch and then to Chowringhee.