Howrah Bridge, Basirhat
About Howrah Bridge
1862 proposal by Turnbull
In 1862, the Government of Bengal asked George Turnbull, chief engineer of the East Indian Railway Company to study the feasibility of bridging the Hooghly River. He had recently established the company's rail terminus in Howrah. He reported on 19 March, with large-scale drawings and estimates, that: The foundations for a bridge at Calcutta would be at a considerable depth and cost because of the depth of the mud there. The impediment to shipping would be considerable.A good place for the bridge was at Pulta Ghat "about a dozen miles north of Calcutta" where a "bed of stiff clay existed at no great depth under the river bed". A suspended-girder bridge of five spans of 401 feet (122 m) and two spans 200 feet (61 m) would be ideal.The bridge was built.
In view of the increasing traffic across the Hooghly river, a committee was appointed in 1855-56 to review alternatives for constructing a bridge across it. The plan was shelved in 1859-60, to be revived in 1868, when it was decided that a bridge should be constructed and a newly appointed trust vested to manage it. The Calcutta Port Trust was founded in 1870, and the Legislative department of the then Government of Bengal passed the Howrah Bridge Act in the year 1871 under the Bengal Act IX of 1871, empowering the lieutenant-governor to have the bridge constructed with Government capital under the aegis of the Port Commissioners. Eventually a contract was signed with Sir Bradford Leslie to construct a pontoon bridge. Different parts were constructed in England and shipped to Calcutta, where they were assembled. The assembling period was fraught with problems. The bridge was considerably damaged by the great cyclone on 20 March 1874. A steamer named Egeria broke from her moorings and collided head-on with the bridge, sinking three pontoons and damaging nearly 200 feet of the bridge. The bridge was completed in 1874, at a total cost of ₹2.2 million, and opened to traffic on 17 October of that year. The bridge was then 1528 ft. long and 62 ft. wide, with 7-foot wide pavements on either side. Initially the bridge was periodically unfastened to allow steamers and other marine vehicles to pass through. Before 1906, the bridge used to be undone for the passage of vessels during daytime only. Since June of that year it started opening at night for all vessels except ocean steamers, which were required to pass through during daytime. From 19 August 1879, the bridge was illuminated by electric lamp-posts, powered by the dynamo at the Mullick Ghat Pumping Station. As the bridge could not handle the rapidly increasing load, the Port Commissioners started planning in 1905 for a new improved bridge.
Plans for a new bridge
In 1906 the Port Commission appointed a committee headed by R.S. Highet, chief engineer, East Indian Railway and W.B. MacCabe, chief engineer, Calcutta Corporation. They submitted a report stating that Bullock carts formed the eight - thirteenths of the vehicular traffic (as observed on 27 August 1906, the heaviest day's traffic observed in the port of Commissioners 16 days' Census of the vehicular traffic across the existing bridge). The roadway on the existing bridge is 48 feet wide except at the shore spans where it is only 43 feet in roadways, each 21 feet 6 inches wide. The roadway on the new bridge would be wide enough to take at least two lines of vehicular traffic and one line of trams in each direction and two roadways each 30 feet wide, giving a total width of 60 feet of road way which are quite sufficient for this purpose [...] The traffic across the existing floating bridge Calcutta & Howrah is very heavy and it is obvious if the new bridge is to be on the same site as the existing bridge, then unless a temporary bridge is provided, there will be serious interruptions to the traffic while existing bridge is being moved to one side to allow the new bridge to be erected on the same site as the present bridge. The committee considered six options: Large ferry steamers capable of carrying vehicular load (set up cost ₹900,000, annual cost ₹438,000) A transporters bridge (set up cost ₹2 million) A tunnel (set up cost ₹338.2 million, annual maintenance cost ₹1779,000) A bridge on piers (set up cost ₹22.5 million) A floating bridge (set up cost ₹2140,000, annual maintenance cost ₹200,000) An arched bridgeThe committee eventually decided on a floating bridge. It extended tenders to 23 firms for its design and construction. Prize money of £ 3,000 (₹45,000, at the then exchange rate) was declared for the firm whose design would be accepted.
Planning and estimation
The initial construction process of the bridge was stalled due to the World War I, although the bridge was partially renewed in 1917 and 1927. In 1921 a committee of engineers named the 'Mukherjee Committee' was formed, headed by R. N. Mukherji, Sir Clement Hindley, chairman of Calcutta Port Trust and J. McGlashan, Chief Engineer. They referred the matter to Sir Basil Mott, who proposed a single span arch bridge. Charles Alfred O"Grady one of the Engineers In 1922 the New Howrah Bridge Commission was set up, to which the Mukherjee Committee submitted its report. In 1926 the New Howrah Bridge Act passed. In 1930 the Goode Committee was formed, comprising S.W. Goode as president, S.N. Mallick, and W.H. Thompson, to investigate and report on the advisability of constructing a pier bridge between Calcutta and Howrah. Based on their recommendation, M/s. Rendel, Palmer and Tritton were asked to consider the construction of a suspension bridge of a particular design prepared by their chief draftsman Mr. Walton. On basis of the report, a global tender was floated. The lowest bid came from a German company, but due to increasing political tensions between Germany and Great Britain in 1935, it was not given the contract. The Braithwaite, Burn & Jessop Construction Co. was awarded the construction contract that year. The New Howrah Bridge Act was amended in 1935 to reflect this, and construction of the bridge started the next year.
The bridge does not have nuts and bolts, but was formed by riveting the whole structure. It consumed 26,500 tons of steel, out of which 23,000 tons of high-tensile alloy steel, known as Tiscrom, were supplied by Tata Steel. The main tower was constructed with single monolith caissons of dimensions 55.31 x 24.8 m with 21 shafts, each 6.25 metre square. The Chief Engineer of the Port Trust, Mr. J. McGlashan, wanted to replace the pontoon bridge, with a permanent structure, as the present bridge interfered with North/South river traffic. Work could not be started as World War I (1914–1918) broke out. Then in 1926 a commission under the chairmanship of Sir R. N. Mukherjee recommended a suspension bridge of a particular type to be built across the River Hoogly. The bridge was designed by one Mr. Walton of M/s Rendel, Palmer & Triton. The order for construction and erection was placed on M/s.Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company in 1939. Again World War II (1939–1945 ) intervened. All the steel that was to come from England were diverted for war effort in Europe. Out of 26,000 tons of steel, that was required for the bridge, only 3000 tons were supplied from England. In spite of the Japanese threat, the then (British) government of India pressed on with the construction. Tata Steel were asked to supply the remaining 23,000 tons of high tension steel. The Tatas developed the quality of steel required for the bridge and called it Tiscom. The entire 23,000 tons was supplied in time. The fabrication and erection work was awarded to a local engineering firm of Howrah: the Braithwaite, Burn & Jessop Construction Co.. The two anchorage caissons were each 16.4 m by 8.2 m, with two wells 4.9 m square. The caissons were so designed that the working chambers within the shafts could be temporarily enclosed by steel diaphragms to allow work under compressed air if required. The caisson at Kolkata side was set at 31.41 m and that at Howrah side at 26.53 m below ground level.One night, during the process of grabbing out the muck to enable the caisson to move, the ground below it yielded, and the entire mass plunged two feet, shaking the ground. The impact of this was so intense that the seismograph at Kidderpore registered it as an earthquake and a Hindu temple on the shore was destroyed, although it was subsequently rebuilt. While muck was being cleared, numerous varieties of objects were brought up, including anchors, grappling irons, cannons, cannonballs, brass vessels, and coins dating back to the East India Company. The job of sinking the caissons was carried out round-the-clock at a rate of a foot or more per day. The caissons were sunk through soft river deposits to a stiff yellow clay 26.5 m below ground level. The accuracy of sinking the huge caissons was exceptionally precise, within 50–75 mm of the true position. After penetrating 2.1 m into clay, all shafts were plugged with concrete after individual dewatering, with some 5 m of backfilling in adjacent shafts. The main piers on the Howrah side were sunk by open wheel dredging, while those on the Kolkata side required compressed air to counter running sand. The air pressure maintained was about 40 lbs per square inch (2.8 bar), which required about 500 workers to be employed. Whenever excessively soft soil was encountered, the shafts symmetrical to the caisson axes were left unexcavated to allow strict control. In very stiff clays, a large number of the internal wells were completely undercut, allowing the whole weight of the caisson to be carried by the outside skin friction and the bearing under the external wall. Skin friction on the outside of the monolith walls was estimated at 29 kN/m2 while loads on the cutting edge in clay overlying the founding stratum reached 100 tonnes/m. The work on the foundation was completed on November 1938. By the end of 1940, the erection of the cantilevered arms was commenced and was completed in mid-summer of 1941. The two halves of the suspended span, each 282 feet (86 m) long and weighing 2,000 tons, were built in December 1941. The bridge was erected by commencing at the two anchor spans and advancing towards the center, with the use of creeper cranes moving along the upper chord. 16 hydraulic jacks, each of which had an 800-ton capacity, were pressed into service to join the two halves of the suspended span.The entire project cost ₹25 million (£2,463,887). The project was a pioneer in bridge construction, particularly in India, but the government did not have a formal opening of the bridge due to fears of attacks by Japanese planes fighting the Allied Powers. Japan had attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The first vehicle to use the bridge was a solitary tram.The bridge is regarded "the gateway to Kolkata, as it connects the city to the Howrah Station".