A Bridge on Brahmaputra 17 years in making

July 17, 2014


When welded together, these frames will form the bridge
When welded together, these frames will form the bridge

Rail-road link is under construction on Assam-Arunachal border

  The river takes a 5-km wide turn to the south here. This is the narrowest stretch of the Brahmaputra, in upper Assam. Running across the river are a series of pillars, one-third of which are incomplete. They will support India’s longest rail-cum-road bridge that will open a lifeline between the plains of upper Assam and the mountainous northern Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China.

On the southern bank at Bogibeel, near Dibrugarh, a 125-metre long steel frame – weighing nearly half of a coal laden cargo train – is slowly, inch-by-inch, pulled out of a huge fabrication shed. It is now resting on the first pillar deck on the water.

With time, it will be pulled further north to make way for a total of 41 such modules to be placed on the pillars. When welded together, these frames will form the bridge, with two railway tracks on the lower deck and a three-lane highway overhead.

Revised deadline

The project has been under construction for the last 17 years and is of huge strategic importance to the Indian Army.

“We are now confident to complete the project by end-2016,” says a senior official of the executing authority, North East Frontier Railway. That is nearly two years behind the last revised deadline of March 2015. Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), which is creating the super structure, echoes the railways version. However, despite repeated efforts no confirmation was available from Gammon India that is engaged in the building the pillars since 2008.

Available information suggests out of 42 pillars, 12 are far from complete and three are semi-finished. Considering the narrow weather window (November-April) it might be a tall task for the company to complete the residual work in the next two years. Railways, however, claim that 90 per cent of pillar work is complete.

Assam Accord proposal

Bogibeel was one of the major promises made by the India government during the peace accord with the separatist forces in Assam on August 15, 1985. The proposal was cleared by the HD Deve Gowda government in 1997. But it took the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to start construction in 2002.

The idea was to link NH-52 at Dhameji, on the Arunachal border, on the northern bank of Brahmaputra with NH-52-B in Dibrugarh; convert the metre gauge rail links in the north into broad gauge and connect it with existing rail link at Dibrugarh.

While the bridge was estimated to cost ₹1,767 crore (2002); more investments were committed by Railways and the Assam Government in creating requisite rail and road network on either side. To speed up implementation, the bridge was declared as ‘project of national importance” in 2007. The prolonged delay escalated costs by at least three times. The bridge, if completed in end 2016, will cost nearly ₹5,000 crore.

The writer visited the project site at Bogibeel at the invitation of HCC

(This article was published on July 15, 2014)

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