It was India’s first sea bridge when it opened 108 years ago. It held the title as the longest sea bridge and the only connection between the Indian mainland and Rameswaram Island until 2010. It has been considered one of the world’s most dangerous bridges because of its narrowness and its proximity, crossing the Arabian Sea, known for its treacherous storms. It has been battered by cyclones and high waves and because of the sea’s saltiness, has been prone to corrosion. For 108 years, despite the use and abuse, the bridge was the only one that the Indian Railways had used.
The Pamban Railroad Bridge is a 2.1 km long railroad bridge that features a double-leaf bascule main span in a form of a Scherzer design, functioning using a lever to allow ships to pass. The bascule spans are operated by hand, making it one of the last of its kind to exist. The approach spans are deck plate girders. Going across the bridge would require trains to travel a snail’s pace of 10-20 km/h- causing awe among tourists and headaches for Indian Railways as it supplies goods between islands. But that is about to change.
Workers are building a new bridge alongside the old span. The bridge will be longer than the old one (2.3 km long) and it will be wide enough to provide two-tracks of rail service going in each direction. The main span will feature a vertical lift span that will be 63 meters long and will be high enough for ships to pass. The lift span will operate by computer thus eliminating the need for manpower. There will be 100 girder spans functioning as approach spans averaging 18 meters. The new bridge itself will be three meters higher than the old one. There’s a video on the new span that will provide you with some details on what the bridge will look like when it is completed.
The bridge is expected to open to traffic in 2023. It will serve as a relief to not only rail traffic, which will be able to travel up to 80 km/h on the new span in both directions, but also to the vehicular viaduct located parallel to the railroad span that has been in use for 12 years now. A plus for tourism and for commerce in the region.
As far as the old span is concerned, its future is open. While there is a chance that it could be repurposed as a bike and pedestrian trail bridge, which would make the world record books for being the longest rail-to-trail bridge, chances are more likely that it will be (at least partially) removed with metal parts being shipped to sea to be reused as coral reefs. The Bascule spans will most likely be preserved and used as a monument- and rightfully so because of its historic significance. No matter what happens, the Pamban Bridge will remain in the history books because of its feat but also because of its contribution to India’s transportation development, especially during the time before its independence in 1947. Here are two clips of the old bridge to give you an idea how the bridge still works and to a certain degree, why a new span is necessity.