India’s first cantilever bridge connects Rameswaram with mainland

A long-time resident of Rameswaram and former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam inaugurated the centenary celebrations of the Pamban railway bridge — India’s first cantilever bridge, connecting the pilgrim-island of Rameswaram with the mainland. He turned nostalgic as a two-coach special train took him from Mandapam across the bridge. “Pamban bridge is part of my life,” Mr. Kalam said. As a young boy, he had travelled hundreds of times on the bridge to take newspapers to the island for distribution.

Mr. Kalam unveiled a plaque and released a book Marvels of South Indian Railway, marking the inauguration of the nearly month-long celebrations.

Southern Railway General Manager Rakesh Misra said the bridge was an engineering marvel that had withstood corrosion and a violent sea for over a century. The 65.23-metre-long rolling central lift span (the bridge is 2.06 km long), named after Scherzer, German engineer who designed and built the span, has been given a fresh coat of paint and decorated with lights. It opens up like a pair of scissors to allow vessels to pass through under the bridge.

Mr. Kalam had played a vital role in preserving the bridge. After the Railways announced its uni-gauge policy in 2006, and almost gave up gauge conversion at the bridge, he brought in IIT-Madras expertise to thrash out an engineering solution.

The bridge was put to test for the first time in December 1964, when a severe cyclonic storm hit this part of the area. All girders, both RCC and steel, were washed away. Two of the 141 piers were also damaged. But, Scherzer’s span withstood nature’s fury.

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