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In Andhra hills, Railways repairs bridge on 60-day war footing

Within five days, Indian Railways started the work of restoring the bridge, including building a 28-metre pier rooted in the rocky range from scratch, diverting a waterfall that has a sharp eight-degree curve, and restoring the steep tracks. The deadline: 60 days.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
Updated: November 19, 2017 6:51:28 am
Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh railway bridge, Andhra Pradesh railway bridge damage In 60 days, it has to repair this damaged bridge, tackling the rocky terrain, a waterfall and two tunnels. Courtesy Railways

On October 7, a boulder the size of house broke off a mountain in the Araku Valley region in Andhra Pradesh and fell on a 50-year-old railway bridge, destroying one of its piers for good and rendering the country’s highest broad-gauge freight line useless.

Within five days, Indian Railways started the work of restoring the bridge, including building a 28-metre pier rooted in the rocky range from scratch, diverting a waterfall that has a sharp eight-degree curve, and restoring the steep tracks. The deadline: 60 days.

While the government has brought in the Army to build three foot over bridges in Mumbai suburban stations for “faster execution of work”, this project being executed by the East Coast Railway Zone is not just an engineering challenge but also requires time-bound execution on a “war footing”. The work is being monitored 24X7 with drones and other wireless camera feeds, right up to the level of the Railway Board.

“We are on schedule. Traffic will be restored by December 12, as targeted,” Umesh Singh, General Manager of East Coast Railway, told The Sunday Express.

The 445-km Kothavalasa-Kirandul line, known simply as the KK line, running through the dense mountains of the Eastern Ghats, is the steepest broad-gauge freight line in the Indian Railways, connecting the NMDC’s iron ore mines in Chhattisgarh with Vishakhapatnam’s steel plants and port. The line and bridge were commissioned in the late 1960s, with financial and technical assistance from Japan, to aid India’s push towards industrialisation. It has 58 tunnels and 84 major bridges, including the 85-metre ‘Bridge 249’ that is now being rebuilt.

In the absence of the line, freight is currently being moved on the Koraput-Rayagada-Vizianagram line, which is a 150-km diversion. The boulder weighing nearly 700 tonnes that fell on the bridge not only shattered its pier but also dislodged the iron girders. In the dense mountains, the access to the site of the bridge to carry out the work is blocked by a waterfall.

“From the day the damage was discovered, we have been on war mode, so to speak. An emergency single tender was given out within a couple of days. We are losing around Rs 2 crore per day in the absence of the line, so the timeline for the job is non-negotiable,” said Mukul S Mathur, Divisonal Railway Manager (DRM) of Waltair Divison of East Coast Railway, which is carrying out the work. The entire Indian Railways network is divided into 68 divisions, each headed by a DRM.

It involved first breaking the damaged pier that held the bridge upright, removing the girder, and making a fresh pier, while negotiating the topography that is treacherous not just for the workers but also the heavy machinery. Apart from the waterfall that has to be diverted, the bridge is flanked by tunnels on both sides.

The Waltair Division estimates the restoration will cost Rs 7 crore. The engineers laid out a 500-metre approach to get the men and machinery to the base of the pier, while the waterfall was diverted using pipes and channels to reach the bridge. The damaged pier was broken using short-fuse controlled explosives and special chemicals, and the girder was carried away while holding up the remaining bridge with a temporary crib structure.

Given the enormity of the exercise, the tender conditions were stringent, officials said. The local contractor working under the supervision of railway engineers is to be penalised 0.25 per cent of the contract value per day for each day of delay. Similarly, it would get a bonus of 0.5 per cent per day if the work gets done earlier than deadline.

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