What is the best way to maintain railway bridges? This has become a bone of contention between parliamentarians and the Railways. A parliamentarians panel wants the Railways to change its method of inspecting bridges, while the Railways say its present methodology is good enough.
The Railways has a whopping 1,47,523 bridges across its network.
“The Ministry should re-evaluate its classification of bridges,” said a Standing Committee on Railways in Lok Sabha on Tuesday. The “re-evaluation should take into account the changing dynamics of modern rail transportation which sees the use of heavier and faster trains and higher density of traffic.” The lawmakers also questioned the manner in which the Railways rate the bridges.
The committee has also asked the Railways to have a separate maintenance norm taking into account the age of the bridges.
The panel was surprised that in terms of inspection and maintenance, the Railways has the same protocol for bridges that are over 100 years as well as new ones. “Some 37,689 bridges on the Railway network which are 100 years or older are kept at par with the existing newer/modern bridges when it comes to inspections and maintenance.”
The (now) obsolete technology and materials used in these old bridges may not be compliant with modern rail paraphernalia and hence there would be a requirement of a different protocol when it comes to their upkeep and sustenance, opine the panel. It also adopted an understanding attitude regarding the Railways’ financial and commercial health while seeking a change in the protocol of inspection and maintenance for keeping the bridges safe.
However, the Railways is standing its ground in front of the lawmakers. “The present system has been working satisfactorily for 64 years for all categories of bridges in the Indian Railways system,” stated Railway officials. The Railways explained that the present system of inspection — with all its technicalities — takes into account the foundation, flooring, masonry, concrete and various parts that go into forming a bridge.
Agreeing with the lawmakers that the axle load and traffic density has increased with the Railways planning to run heavier train over the freight corridor, the officials said that they have already identified over 1,200 bridges that require strengthening.
Still, the lawmakers have urged the Railways to frame a new protocol for bridges that are over 100 years old.