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Suddenly, it’s not a bridge too far

- Budget push, Delhi nudge & tech tweak spell hope for Bogibeel project

Dibrugarh, July 14: A push in the railway budgetary allocation, a nudge from the Centre and a slight tweak of technology is all it took to give an impetus to one of India’s longest rail-road bridge over the Brahmaputra.

The Bogibeel bridge is finally poised to surge ahead after hibernating for over a decade since its inauguration. “We have finally reached a stage where the revised deadline of finishing the bridge by December 2016 is looking achievable. The construction of the remaining 12 pillars out of 42 on the riverbed would soon start and two steel spans, each measuring 125 metres, have already been launched,” said a senior official of the Northeast Frontier Railway.

Spanning 4.9km and connecting Dibrugarh and Silapathar, the bridge, with a double-line broad gauge track and a three-lane road, was envisaged as the best connectivity between the north and south banks on the eastern end of the Brahmaputra. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid its foundation in April 2002 and the project was awarded “national status” in 2007.

While the work of building the pillars on the riverbed was awarded to Gammon India in 2008, a joint venture company of HCC-DSD-VNR was asked to complete the work of constructing the bridge's super structure in 2011. But since then the bridge has struggled to take off, missing several deadlines, the last one being December 2015.

If the biggest push came in the form of budgetary allocation (railway minister Sadananda Gowda made an outlay of over Rs 5,000 crore for 23 pending projects, including 11 national projects in the Northeast marking a 54 per cent jump in allocation) the other came from technological advancement.

“Bogibeel bridge is the only welded steel structure in the history of Indian Railways. Earlier, there was problem with using argon gas for welding steel in keeping with the standards set down by the Research Design Standards Organisation (RDSO), an organisation under the ministry of railways,” said K. Nageswara Rao, project manager of HCC Limited. “But that has been sorted out. The welding is being now carried out by mixing argon with carbon dioxide.”

Bogibeel bridge will be built on 39 steel spans of 125 meters and two spans of 32.75 meters. All these would be welded and mounted on 42 pillars, ensuring easy and direct access to Upper Assam through the north bank of the Brahmaputra, ensuring easy access to Upper Assam through the north bank.

“Two types of welding mechanisms are being used to construct the bridge, both longitudinal and horizontal. This not only reduces the amount of steel required to build each of the steel spans for the bridge — cut down from the proposed 2200MT to 1700MT for each span — but also ensures there is little decay due to corrosion,” said Sabyasachi Laha, chief quality manager, HCC. “Once built, this bridge should not require any maintenance for the next 50 years.”

According to railway estimates, once the Bogibeel bridge is thrown open to traffic, nearly five million people in Upper Assam will get direct access to the north bank and then on to Arunachal Pradesh. But more than that, it would provide a vital link for the army.

“For both the army and air force, Arunachal Pradesh is a very important location as it shares a border with China and Myanmar. Once the rail connect is ready, it would be of immense help not only in movement of troops but also for transport of ration and heavy machinery,” said a senior officer of the Eastern Command.