In spite of huge profit in Railways we have been unable to maintain our most of the bridges. According to the study by Forbes India, India has more than 36,000 Railway bridges that are over 100 years old.
The railway ministry has never openly acknowledged that there is a problem with its bridges. In Parliament, whenever questioned about the health of its bridges, the ministry has gone into a defensive mode, claiming everything was under control. However, at a conference held in Secunderabad earlier this year, perhaps for the first time in an internal meeting, senior ministry officials let the cat out of the bag. They admitted that the bridges need closer examination.
They now have the Herculean task of testing and retrofitting decrepit bridges across the country. It is a huge challenge considering IR has more than 36,000 bridges that are over 100 years old. Does the Railways have the resources to pull off such a mammoth task, especially when its finances are in a mess? And what about the safety of the passengers till the work is completed? These questions are answered with an uncomfortable silence by the concerned authorities.
“With the introduction of progressively heavier axle load trains and high horse power locomotives, bridges are being subjected to much higher loads than the original design loads. Hence, the main challenge for bridge engineers today is to assess the strength of the existing bridges and retrofit them to enable them to carry the enhanced loading,” said a delegate from the railway board. The national transporter needs to carry higher loads to improve its financial performance and efficiency. With the century-old bridges falling apart, it is in a catch-22 situation.
“The Railways has spent around Rs. 6,000 crore on the repair of bridges in the last 10 years. That amount would have to be multiplied many a time to provide the kind of infrastructure that would enable the Railways to carry, say 32.5 tonnes,” says Chopra. He says in the last 10 years, over 2,000 bridges have been repaired.