NEW DELHI: The Indian Railways seem to have left safety a century behind. The official figures say so: Well over 50,000 rail bridges are over 100 years old, and many more are over 60 years old. As many as 48 bridges were identified as distressed on April 1, 2009. Little is being done to renovate these bridges for safer travel. The Railways don’t agree. They say the issue is being addressed in a specific manner, periodic assessments included.
Shorn of the verbiage, that may be misleading. “Such distressed bridges are inspected visually by lower-level engineers, mostly fresh recruits who are trained little. No photographic evidence is taken; instead they keep their report in the bridge registers,” one railway official reveals.
The Anil Kakodkar panel on safety also made the observations and recommended fitting these bridges with water-level gauges and turbine flow meters to measure flow and warn train drivers.
“Indian Railways has a regimental system of checking these bridges at least once a year with officers on site. Principal chief engineers keep track. The oldness of a bridge is not indicative of its safety,” a railway spokesperson said. A Southern Railways accident report is illustrative. An assistant engineer examined a bridge on Kadalundi river near Calicut and found no visual indication of damage. Its cast iron piles were over 140 years old. The Railways had not declared it a distressed bridge. The engineer apparently used divers to go under turbid water for visual inspection and found no specific observation. However, within a few days, the bridge collapsed derailing four carriages and claiming several lives in 2001.