The Howrah Bridge is a cantilever bridge that spans the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India. Commissioned in 1943, the bridge was originally named the New Howrah Bridge, because it links the city of Howrah to its twin city, Kolkata (Calcutta). On 14 June 1965 it was renamed Rabindra Setu, after Rabindranath Tagore a great Bengal poet and the first Indian Nobel laureate. However it is still popularly known as the Howrah Bridge.
The bridge is one of the four on the Hooghly River and is a famous symbol of Kolkata and West Bengal. The other bridges are the Vidyasagar Setu (popularly called the Second Hooghly Bridge), the Vivekananda Setu and the newly built Nivedita Setu. Apart from bearing the stormy weather of the Bay of Bengal region, it successfully bears the weight of a daily traffic of approximately 100,000 vehicles and possibly more than 150,000 pedestrians, easily making it the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The third longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, it is currently the sixth longest bridge of its type in the world.
1862 Proposal by Turnbull
In 1862, the Government of Bengal asked George Turnbull, Chief Engineer of the East India Railway Company to study the feasibility of bridging the Hooghly River he had recently established the company's rail terminus in Howrah. He reported on 29 March with large-scale drawings and estimates that:
- The foundations for a bridge at Calcutta would be at a considerable depth and cost because of the depth of the mud there.
- The impediment to shipping would be considerable.
- A good place for the bridge was at Pulta Ghat "about a dozen miles north of Calcutta" where a "bed of stiff clay existed at no great depth under the river bed".
- A suspended-girder bridge of five spans of 400 feet and two spans of 200 feet would be ideal.
The bridge was not built.
The old Pontoon Bridge on the Hooghly River, c. 1901 In face of the increasing traffic across the Hooghly river, a committee was appointed in 1855-56 to oversee the possibilities of constructing a bridge across it. However the plan was shelved in 1859-60, to be revived in 1868, when it was decided that a bridge should be constructed and a newly appointed trust should be vested with its responsibility. The Calcutta Port Trust was founded in 1870, and the Legislative department of the then Government of Bengal passed the Howrah Bridge Act in the year 1871 under the Bengal Act IX of 1871, empowering the Lieutenant-Governor to have the bridge constructed with Government capital under the aegis of the Port Commissioners. The Howrah Bridge Act of 1871 Eventually a contract was signed with Sir Bradford Leslie to construct a pontoon bridge, and work commenced, the different parts being constructed in England and sent to Calcutta to be assembled together. The assembling period was fraught with problems. The bridge was considerably damaged by the great cyclone on 20 March 1874. A steamer named Egeria broke from her moorings and collided head-on with the bridge, sinking three pontoons and damaging nearly 200 feet of the bridge. The bridge was completed in 1874, at a total cost of 22 lakhs, and opened to traffic on 17 October of that year. The bridge was then 1528 ft. long and 62 ft. wide, with 7 foot wide pavements on either side. Initially the bridge used to be periodically unfastened to allow steamers and other marine vehicles to pass through. Before 1906, the bridge used to be undone for the passage of vessels during daytime only, but since June of that year it started opening at night for all vessels except ocean steamers, which were required to pass through during daytime. From 19 August 1879, the bridge started being illuminated by electric lamp-posts, powered by the dynamo at the Mullick Ghat Pumping Station. However the bridge started to prove inefficient to cater to the rapidly increasing load, and the Port Commissioners started making plans for a new improved bridge in 1905.
Plans for a New Bridge
In 1906 the Port Commission appointed a committee headed by Mr. R.S. Highet, Chief Engineer, East Indian Railway and Mr. W.B. MacCabe, Chief Engineer, Calcutta Corporation. They submitted a report stating that The committee considered six options:
- Large ferry steamers capable of carrying vehicular load (set up cost 9 lakhs, annual cost 4.37 lakhs)
- A transporters bridge (set up cost 20 lakhs)
- A tunnel (set up cost 33.82 crores, annual maintenance cost 17.79 lakhs)
- A bridge on piers (set up cost 225 lakhs)
- A floating bridge (set up cost 21.40 lakhs, annual maintenance cost Rs. 2 lakhs)
- An arched bridge
The committee eventually decided it to be a floating bridge, and floated tenders to 23 firms for its design and construction. A prize of money 3,000 ( 45,000, at the then exchange rate) was declared as prize money for the firm whose design would be accepted.
Planning and Estimation
The Howrah Bridge Amendment Act, 1935 The initial construction process of the bridge was stalled due to the World War I, although the bridge was partially renewed in 1917 and 1927. In 1921 a committee of engineers named the 'Mukherjee Committee' was formed, headed by Sir R.N. Mukherjee, Sir Clement Hindley, Chairman of Calcutta Port Trust and Mr. J. McGlashan, Chief Engineer. They referred the matter to Sir Basil Mott, who proposed a single span arch bridge. In 1922 the New Howrah Bridge Commission was set up, to which the Mukherjee Committee submitted its report. In 1926 the New Howrah Bridge Act passed. In 1930 the Goode Committee was formed, comprising Mr. S.W. Goode as President, Mr. S.N. Mallick, and Mr. W.H. Thompson, to investigate and report on the advisability of constructing a pier bridge between Calcutta and Howrah. Based on their recommendation, M/s. Rendel, Palmer and Tritton were asked to consider the construction of a suspension bridge of a particular design prepared by their chief draftsman Mr. Walton. On basis of the report, a global tender was floated, and although the lowest bid came from a German company, due to the imminent World War II and Germany's possible participation in it, it wasn't given the contract, and instead the British firm Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company was entrusted with the bridge construction in 1935. The same year the New Howrah Bridge Act was amended, and construction of the bridge started the next year.
The Howrah Bridge under construction The bridge is spectacular in the sense that it doesn't have nuts and bolts., but formed by riveting the whole structure. It consumed 26,500 tons of steel, out of which 23,000 tons of high-tensile alloy steel, known as Tiscrom, were supplied by Tata Steel. The main tower was founded with single monolith caissons of dimensions 55.31 x 24.8 m with 21 shafts, each 6.25 metre square. The fabrication was done by Braithwaite, Burn & Jessop Construction Company at four different shops in Kolkata. The two anchorage caissons were each 16.4 m by 8.2 m, with two wells 4.9 m square. The caissons were so designed that the working chambers within the shafts could be temporarily enclosed by steel diaphragms to allow work under compressed air if required. The caisson at Kolkata side was founded at 31.41 m and that at Howrah side at 26.53 m below ground level. 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 Kidderpore registered it as an earthquake and a Hindu temple on the shore was destroyed, although it was subsequently rebuilt. It is said that while clearing the muck, all kinds of objects were brought up, including anchors, grappling irons, cannons, cannon balls, brass vessels, variety of coins dating back to the East India Company. The job of sinking the caissons was carried out round-the-clock at a rate of a foot or more per day. The caissons were sunk through soft river deposits to a stiff yellow clay 26.5 m below ground level. The accuracy of sinking the huge caissons was exceptionally precise, within 50 75 mm of the true position. After penetrating 2.1 m into clay, all shafts were plugged with concrete after individual dewatering with some 5 m of backfilling in adjacent shafts. The main piers on the Howrah side were sunk by open wheel dredging, while those on the Kolkata side required compressed air to counter running sand. The air pressure maintained was about 40 lbs per square inch (2.8 bar), which required about 500 workers to be employed. Whenever excessively soft soil was encountered, the shafts symmetrical to the caisson axes were left unexcavated to allow strict control, while in very stiff clays a large number of the internal wells were completely undercut, allowing the whole weight of the caisson to be carried by the outside skin friction and the bearing under the external wall. Skin friction on the outside of the monolith walls was estimated at 29 kN/m2. while loads on the cutting edge in clay overlying the founding stratum reached 100 tonnes/m. The work on the foundation was completed on November 1938. By the end of 1940, the erection of the cantilevered arms was commenced and was completed in mid-summer of 1941. The two halves of the suspended span, each 282 feet (86 m) long and weighing 2,000 tons, were built in December 1941. The bridge was erected by commencing at the two anchor spans and advancing towards the center with the use of creeper cranes moving along the upper chord. 16 hydraulic jacks, each of which had an 800 ton capacity, were pressed into service to join the two halves of the suspended span. The entire project cost 25 million ( 2,463,887). In spite of being a pioneer in the field of bridge construction, particularly in India, there was no pomp or formal opening of the bridge due to the possibility of attacks by Japanese planes fighting the Allied Powers. The first vehicle to use the bridge was a solitary tram.
Elevation of the bridge. When commissioned in 1943, it was the 3rd longest cantilever bridge in the world, behind Pont de Qu bec (549 m) and Forth Bridge (521 m). It has since been surpassed by three more bridges, making it currently the sixth longest cantilever bridge in the world. To be precise, it is a Suspension type Balanced Cantilever bridge, with a central span 1500 ft between centers of main towers and a suspended span of 564 ft. The main towers are 280 ft high above the monoliths and 76 ft apart at the top. The anchor arms are 325 ft each, while the cantilever arms are 468 ft each. The bridge deck hangs from panel points in the lower chord of the main trusses with 39 pairs of hangers. The roads way beyond the towers are supported from ground, leaving the anchor arms free from deck load. The deck system includes cross girders suspended between the pairs of hangers by a pinned connection. Six rows of longitudinal stringer girders are arranged between cross girders. Floor beams are supported transversally on top of the stringers, while themselves supporting a continuous pressed steel troughing system surfaced with concrete. The longitudinal expansion and lateral sway movement of the deck are taken care of by expansion and articulation joints. There are two main expansion joints, one at each interface between the suspended span and the cantilever arms, and there are others at the towers and at the interface of the steel and concrete structures at both approach. There are total 8 articulation joints, 3 at each of the cantilever arms and 1 each in the suspended portion. These joints divide the bridge into segments with vertical pin connection between them to facilitate rotational movements of the deck. The bridge deck has longitudinal ruling gradient of 1 in 40 from either end, joined by a vertical curve of radius 4000 ft. The cross gradient of deck is 1 in 48 between kerbs.
The Howrah Bridge during daytime
|Traffic Flow for fast moving heavy vehicles
|Traffic Flow for fast moving light vehicles
The bridge serves as the gateway to Kolkata, connecting it to the Howrah Station, which is one of the four intercity train stations serving Howrah and Kolkata. As such, it carries the near entirety of the traffic to and from the station, taking its average daily traffic close to nearly 1.5 million pedestrians and 1 million vehicles. In 1946 a census was taken to take a count of the daily traffic, it amounted to 27,400 vehicles, 121,100 pedestrians and 2,997 cattle. The bulk of the vehicular traffic comes from buses and cars. Prior to 1993 the bridge used to carry trams also. Trams departed from the terminus at Howrah station towards Rajabazar, Sealdah, High Court, Dalhousie Square, Park Circus and Shyambazar. From 1993 the tram services on the bridge were discontinued due to increasing load on the bridge. However the bridge still continues to carry much more than the expected load. A 2007 report revealed that nearly 90,000 vehicles were plying on the bridge daily (15,000 of which were goods-carrying), though its load-bearing capacity is only 60,000. One of the main reasons of overloading was that although vehicles carrying up to 15 tonnes are allowed on the structure, vehicles with 12-18 wheels and carrying load up to 25 tonnes often plied on it. May 31, 2007 onwards, overload trucks were banned from plying on the bridge, and were redirected to the Vidyasagar Setu instead. The road is flanked by footpaths of width 15 feet, and they swarm with pedestrians.
View of Howrah Bridge, c. 1945 The Kolkata Port Trust is vested with the maintenance of the bridge. The bridge has always been subject to two issues - firstly, damage from vehicles due to rash driving and secondly from the continuous corrosion due to atmospheric conditions and biological wastes. On October 2008, 6 high-tech surveillance cameras were strategically placed in such a manner that the entire 705-metre-long and 30-metre-wide structure could be constantly monitored from the control room. Two of the cameras were placed under the floor of the bridge to track the movement of barges, steamers and boats on the river, while the other four were fixed to the first layer of beams one at each end and two in the middle to monitor vehicle movements. This was in light of substantial damage caused to the bridge from collisions with vehicles, so that compensation could be claimed from the miscreants. Another issue is the corrosion caused by human spitting and bird droppings. An investigation in 2003 revealed that as a result of prolonged chemical reaction caused by continuous collection of bird excreta, several joints and parts of the bridge were damaged. As an immediate measure, the Kolkata Port Trust engaged contractors to regularly clean the bird droppings, at an annual expense of 5 lakhs. In 2004, KPT spent 65 lakhs to paint the entirety of 22 lakh sq. m of the bridge. Two coats of Aluminium paint, with a primer of Zinc chromate before that, was applied on the bridge, requiring a total of 26,500 litres of paint.
The illuminated Howrah Bridge at night
The bridge is also considerably damaged by human spitting. A technical inspection by port trust officials in 2011 revealed that spitting had reduced the thickness of the steel hoods protecting the pillars from six to less than three millimeters since 2007. Because the bridge was designed in such a manner that the hangers need those hoods at the base to prevent water seeping into the junction of the cross-girders and hangers, damage to the hoods can jeopardize the safety of the bridge. KTP announced that it will spend 20 lakhs on covering the base of the steel pillars with fibreglass casing to prevent spit from corroding them. On June 24, 2005, a private cargo vessel M V Mani, belonging to the Ganges Water Transport Pvt. Ltd, while trying to pass under the bridge during high tide, had its funnel stuck underneath for three hours, causing substantial damage worth about 1.5 crore to the stringer and longitudinal girder of the bridge. Some of the 40 cross-girders were also broken. Two of four trolley guides, bolted and welded with the girders, were extensively damaged. Nearly 350 of 700 metres of the track were twisted beyond repair.
Howrah Bridge as seen from the river The bridge has become an iconic landmark and symbol of Kolkata. Rudyard Kipling mentioned the bridge in City of Dreadful Night: "Why, this is London! This is the docks. This is Imperial. This is worth coming across India to see!" The bridge has been shown in numerous films, such as Ritwik Ghatak's Bari Theke Paliye in 1958, Satyajit Ray's Parash Pathar in the same year, Mrinal Sen's Neel Akasher Neechey in 1959, Shakti Samanta's Amar Prem in 1971, Mrinal Sen's 1972 National Award winning Bengali film Calcutta 71, Nicolas Klotz's 1988 film The Bengali Night, Roland Joff 's 1992 English language film City of Joy, Florian Gallenberger's 2004 Bengali film Shadows of Time, Mani Ratnam's 2004 Bollywood film Yuva, Pradeep Sarkar's 2005 Bollywood film Parineeta, Subhrajit Mitra's 2008 Bengali film Mon Amour: Shesher Kobita Revisited, Mira Nair's 2006 film The Namesake, Blessy's 2008 Malayalam Film Calcutta News, Surya Sivakumar's 2009 Tamil film Aadhavan, Abhik Mukhopadhyay's 2010 Bengali film Ekti Tarar Khonje and Sujoy Ghosh's 2012 Bollywood film Kahaani.
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