| The shaking bridge. Picture by Biplab Basak
Malda, June 10: Each time a train rumbles down the rickety bridge over the Mahananda river, Hazrat Ali strokes his beard in panic.
“I cannot help but fear the worst. The bridge sways dangerously whenever a train passes,” the elderly resident of Bairgachi village said. “I just keep my fingers crossed and pray.”
One of the six concrete pillars the bridge stood on became “unstable” when a devastating flood washed away the earth and boulders it was set in, villagers said. The exposed pillar at the bottom of the bridge became visible when the river dried up in summer last year.
Trains cross the bridge (No. 32) on the busy Sealdah-New Jalpaiguri route of Northeast Frontier Railway’s Katihar division.
Built in 1962, the bridge — close to the Mahananda Halt station, some 22 km from the district headquarters of Malda — straddles Bairgachi and Maharajpur villages in Gajole and Ratua.
Additional divisional railway manager (Katihar) Dilip Agarwal acknowledged that the flood had “washed away” the base of a pillar.
“It has come to our notice and our engineers have started work on it in right earnest. There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about,” he said over phone.
The course of rivers sometimes changes, Agarwal said, prompting the railway to repair the bridges accordingly. “We carry out maintenance work on the bridges from 9 am to 5 pm everyday. The train divers are accordingly instructed to regulate the speed.”
Besides, the railway official said “keymen” carried out inspections every 6 km. “Special patrolling is also done during monsoon.”
He said work on track expansion was on between Malda and Kumedpur. A new bridge would be constructed along the old one near the Mahananda Halt. “Those carrying out a campaign against the so-called unstable bridge are not aware of the real situation. The bridge does not pose any threat to the trains or passengers,” Agarwal said.
Ali said their initial complaints to the railway officials were brushed aside. “We saw some railway engineers at the site one day in May.”
Work started on filling the gaping base of the pillar with earth and boulders. Two signs were also put on either side of the bridge, restricting the speed of the approaching trains, Ali admitted.