The river Hoogly as it is called, on its eastern bank witnessed the merging of Kolkata, Sutanati and Gobindpur towards the ending of 17th century while on the western bank lay Howrah which was another commercial town fast developing.
For various mutual commercial interests or due to a common linkage of history or by sheer coincidence of vicinity, there developed a need to bring the two places together. For this, the idea was floated of having a Pontoon Bridge under the supervision of Mr. Bradford Leslie.
The idea of assembling different parts after transporting them from England to Calcutta was a blunder as the task was loaded with serious issues. The First World War had begun and the construction of the bridge scrutiny of Sir Bradford Leslie in the year 1874.
There was a simultaneous establishment of the famous port of Calcutta. This bridge gained significant importance as Calcutta started getting more and more important as a commercial and political hub. But there still remained or rather grew a need for a more suitable bridge to do justice to the amount of traffic which existed between Calcutta and Howrah.
Construction of the Howrah Bridge
The Port Commissioners were given appointment as Bridge Commissioners in 1871 and the management committee of the bridge was entrusted to them. The Pontoon Bridge as expected began to show the signs of duress.
There were various options of transport considered for the use of common gentry. These included ferry steamers, transporter bridges, tunnels, bridges on pier, floating bridges or arched bridges.
After considering all the financial costs and the end results and ramifications of all the options, the idea of constructing a floating bridge was accepted and the tender floated. It was difficult was aborted or rather delayed because of it. Efforts to get the construction again surfaced in the years 1917 and 1927.
The committee called the Mukherjee Committee was set up and recommendations by Sir Basil Mott concluded that a single span arched bridge would be the choice of bridge constructed between Howrah and Calcutta.
In the year 1929, m/s Rendel, Palmer and Tritton who were employed for the job drew up the estimates for a cantilever and a floating bridge. Once the chairmen of the Calcutta Port Commissioners made up their minds on kind of bridge, the firm submitted their report on the design and drawing of the new bridge and the process for the construction kick started immediately.
The Making of the Structural Marvel:
The British firm Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company Limited secured the job of the construction of the bridge among various other contenders and ultimately the bridge’s construction began in 1936 under the supervision of the Commissioners of the port of Calcutta.
The company under Darlington strongly recommended that steel made in India be used for this bridge.
Amongst a total of 26,500 tons of steel, 25,500 tons were given by the Tata Iron and Steel Company of Jamshedpur and the entire fabrication was made by the Braithewaite, Burn and Jessop Company at four different places in Calcutta. Several small parts and tools were also made and shipped from England.
The bridge has the biggest sunk monoliths ever. There was however one mishap that tainted the constructional years in the bridge’s history when the ground yielded under the monolith and it almost was an earthquake around the area destroying a temple on its shores which was remade later.
Features of Howrah Bridge
Rabindra Setu is the newer name of the Howrah Bridge awarded to the Howrah Bridge in the year 1969 in the memory of the Nobel Laureate Sri Rabindra Nath Tagore. Built with a steel of high tensile strength, the super structure of the bridge comprises of the two main towers and Anchor arms and Cantilever arms.
The towers stand tall on the monoliths on a height of 280 feet and are also apart by about 76 feet. The height of the Anchor arms is 325 feet while the Cantilever arms are 468 feet lengthwise at either ends. There is a span of footpaths on either side of the bridge deck for people to walk and has a width of about 15 feet. The bridge deck which has the vehicular traffic is about 71 feet in width.
There are 39 pairs of hangars in the chord of the main trusses which provides the panel points from which the bridge deck hangs between the towers. While these specifics about the new Bridge appeared technical jargon to many but the specifications of the mighty bridge secured safe transport between Howrah and Calcutta for many generations.
The Bridge had proper maintenance till 1983 by the way of fresh painting of it and patch painting as and when needed. Emergency repair works were conducted to dislocated joint covers and railings.
There was a proper survey conducted to understand the status of the bridge by M/S Rail India Technical and Economics Services Limited (RITES) who had been associates of Rendel, Palmer and Tritton Limited, the original bridge designers.
The survey had to detect all major defects and damages caused to the bridge. It had to assess the stress level of the daily traffic and its density, look for scope of restoration of distressed components of the bridge, to verify the geometry in the new time and to formulate the best maintenance routine possible.
The survey paid off and severe corrosion was detected in the bridge. But every step to further the restoration of this man- made marvel had been looked after by the Port Trust of Kolkata.
All these years, the bridge withstood the test of time and took the load of the newer vehicular movement successfully and silently. The bridge is open to traffic round the clock except for goods vehicle. The bridge continues to come out with flying colors in its functionality and reliability.
The Howrah Bridge stands today as the largest bridge in India and the busiest bridge in the world. Moreover, it is also the longest single span as well as world’s 3rd longest cantilever bridge. The recent decorative illumination of the bridge which was inaugurated in 2006 is operated daily making the bridge look remarkably attractive in the darkness of the night.