The Pamban Bridge, later renamed Indira Gandhi Bridge, is one of only five sea bridges in India. It connects Rameswaram town on Pamban Island to mainland India over the Palk Strait. A marvel of architecture and engineering to this day, here are some interesting facts about the Pamban Bridge that you might not have heard before.
#1 The Longest Sea-Bridge for Almost A Century
With construction beginning in 1911, the Pamban Bridge was opened for service in February 1914; it was India’s first sea bridge. Although other sea bridges were eventually built, the Pamban Bridge remained, with a total length of 2.3 KMs, the country’s longest one until the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, later renamed to Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, was built over Mahim bay with a total length of 5.6 KMs in 2010.
#2 The Only Link to Mainland India Until 1988
The Pamban Bridge is designed for rail traffic exclusively. Until the completion of the construction of the adjacent road bridge in 1988, it remained the sole link between the Pamban Island and the rest of mainland India.
#3 India’s First Cantilever Bridge
The Pamban Bridge has a double-leaf bascule section, that can be raised to let tall ships pass, that is still functional even though it was constructed a century ago. The section was implemented so that the then established ferry service would not be disrupted by erection of piers. On average, 10 to 15 boats and ships still make use of this cantilever facility every month.
#4 It Withstood A Cyclone
A severe cyclonic storm tested the limits of the bridge’s strength in December 1964. Although many of the metal structures, girders and concrete elements were washed away, as well as damage to two of the supporting piers, the rolling lift centre span, designed by the German engineer Scherzer, in 1913 stayed strong. A true testament to quality engineering that stood tall against Nature’s fury. The bridge was repaired and reopened for service in 46 days.
#5 Almost Declared Obsolete
Since the Pamban Bridge had metre gauge rails, it was decided to close down the bridge in 2006 upon the start of Project Unigauge, the concerted effort by the Indian Railways to convert most operational tracks to the broad gauge standard. Plans for a new bridge were scrapped citing massive costs. Under direction from then President A P J Abdul Kalam, who hailed from Rameswaram, the Pamban Bridge was strengthened and converted to broad gauge rail. Services resumed in 2007.
#6 Surprising Strength
The Pamban Bridge is located at an area of immense corrosive potential, second only to the Gulf of Mexico in the world. Even so, it has stayed strong throughout the years, with over a century of continuous service. In 2013, a 220 ton barge crashed into the bridge when its tugboat ran aground, causing the piers to tilt. Damages were only minor and it was soon repaired.
So there you have it folks. Against all intuition, the Pamban Bridge stands tall tirelessly, serving the nation for over a century. In 2013, the Indian Railways applied to UNESCO to declare the bridge a world heritage site, and we think the appeal is justified. It is as marvellous as it is majestic and the world may never see the likes of it ever again.