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 even more than that are over 60 years old. As many as 48 bridges were identified as distressed on April 1, 2009. Little is being done to modify or renovate these bridges for safer travel. The Railways, of course, say the issue is being addressed.
Shorn of the verbiage, that may be misleading and dangerous. “Such distressed bridges are inspected visually by lower-level engineers who are trained little and may be freshly recruited. 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 these observations and recommended that these vulnerable bridges be fitted with water level gauges and turbine flow meters to measure flow which should be interlocked in a way to warn the driver of an approaching train. “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.
How does that work? A Southern Railways accident report could be illustrative. An assistant engineer examined a bridge in the Kadalundi area and found no visual indication of damage on this bridge whose cast iron piles were more than 140 years old. The Railways had not declared it a distressed bridge. The engineer apparently used divers to go under the turbid water for visual inspection. However, within a few days, the bridge collapsed and a serious accident took place with loss of life in 2001.