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Old bridges of distress

New Delhi, Sept. 10: Initial reports received by the Railway Board indicate poor maintenance of the bridge as a possible reason for the Rajdhani Express’ derailment.

Senior Railway Board officials said: “Technical faults on the bridge is one of the possible reasons. We cannot determine the exact cause of the accident without a final report. Even the preliminary report does not provide us the necessary evidence.”

The railway bridge was an old one, but officials said the “replacement of railway bridges is not decided merely on the basis of the age but also on its physical condition and technical considerations. Therefore, the concept of average age is not used in the context of railway bridges.”

According to the railway, till March 2002, about 526 bridges had been identified as “distressed” and had been targeted for rebuilding by 2005-06.

About 51,340 railway bridges are more than 100 years old and the ministry has undertaken a special programme for rebuilding about 3,000 bridges at an estimated cost of Rs 1,530 crore.

The funds will be sourced from the special railway safety fund.

Railway ministry officials also pointed out that more than 6,000 km of track was in need of immediate replacement, but is yet to be done because of the paucity of funds.

Fifty-two people died when three coaches of the Mangalore-Madras Mail fell into the Kadalundi river, near Kozhikode in Kerala, last year. The reason — the collapse of an ageing bridge.

“We regularly repair and maintain the rail bridges, particularly the old ones. But the number of bridges that need immediate attention is more and there is a need for a strategic approach from the ministry to solve this problem,” said a senior official of Northern Railway.

However, R.C Acharya, former member (mechanical), Railway Board, said: “Statements should not be made before an investigation is conducted and the results are made available. It could be a sabotage as the minister claims but it is prudent to wait for the report.”

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