The challenge was to do it within a tight deadline of 60 days. In the end, Railways in fact did it in just 58 days, as the broken bridge in the mountains of Eastern Ghats stood restored before time on Friday. On October 6-7, a 700-ton boulder fell on the half-a-decade-old “bridge number 249” in the Araku Valley region of Andhra Pradesh; shattered its pier and rendered the country’s highest broad-gauge freight line useless.
Within five days, work started to restore the bridge on war footing keeping a never-before 60-day deadline, putting to test Indian Railways’ engineering capability, and its ability to deliver on time. Incidentally, the bridge work coincided with time the Army was called in to build three foot overbridges in Mumbai’s suburban network in what was viewed by a section of railway bureaucracy as a snub to the national transporter’s engineering prowess.
Around 400 labourers worked day and night as zonal railways incurred a cost of just about Rs 7 crore to get the bridge restored. According to East Coast Railway, this is a record. “This is the record of any bridge work done in so short a period,” said a statement issued by the zonal railway Friday.
Chairman Railway Board Ashwani Lohani is due to visit the site next week and formally restore traffic. Sources said he will reward the team that spearheaded the job as this was no mean feat, officials claimed.
The work site was inaccessible from the beginning thanks to the rocky mountains and an adjacent waterfall. The impact of the boulder was such that a new pier had to be constructed from scratch after diverting the waterfall to gain access to the work site.
On Friday, Laxmi Narayan, Principal Chief Engineer, East Coast Railway and Mukul S Mathur, Divisional Railway Manager, Waltair Division of the zonal railway flagged off the first train to mark the formal commissioning of the bridge after engineers furnished a written certificate that the bridge was fit. The formal launch of commercial operations will start on December 12.
“The bridge stands commissioned from engineering point of view. We are just clearing the various machines and construction material from either side of the bridge. We moved the first vehicle on it today. Full-scale operation will start next week,” Mathur told The Indian Express.