10 Facts About Howrah Bridge You Probably Did Not Know

Its February and its the birthday month of one of India’s iconic structures, the Howrah Bridge. Built during the World War II, this cantilever bridge has stood the test of time. Handling a daily traffic of 100,000 vehicles and 150,000 pedestrians it remains the busiest of its kind in the world. Here are 10 lesser known facts about the engineering behemoth that will add to your know-how.

Howrah Bridge

photograph by: Arunava Patra

1. Mysterious link with the World Wars

The bridge was meant to be built before 1920 but the idea had to be postponed due to World War I (1914-1918). Construction finally began in 1936 and ended in 1942, which again coincided with the World War II (1939-1945).

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2. A Tunnel & not a Bridge

Before the construction of the present Bridge 6 options were considered which culminated in a Pontoon Bridge in 1874. Even making a tunnel was taken into consideration. A mammoth construction cost of Rs. 3,382.58 lakhs in 1871 was enough to reject the idea.

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3. A Global Tender

The construction of the bridge was awarded to a British firm Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company Ltd. on the basis of a global tender invited during 1934-35.

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Howrah Bridge construction

Howrah Bridge during its construction days

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4. A Cosmopolitan Bridge

A team of British Senior engineers and foremen with Indian assistants was at the site. The labour consisted primarily of Muslims and Hindus, Sikhs and Pathans were fine riveters, most steel erection was done by Punjabis and Bombay Khalassies, Nepalies and Gurkhas were watchmen.It is significant to note that there was no trouble from labour or religious wrangles throughout the six years of construction.

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5. £106 millions to build

It had cost £25 lakhs in 1943 to build the bridge and its approach spans. Adjusted for inflation the amount stands at £106,250,000 in 2016. In Indian currency that would be a whopping ₹1046.

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MV Mani accident

the barge stuck under the bridge

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6. A Damage of Rs. 1.5 crores

On June 24, 2005, the mast of a cargo barge MV Mani got stuck under the bridge. It took 3 hours of effort to release the stranded barge. The Kolkata Port Trust which maintains the bridge estimated the damage to be of Rs. 1.5 crores.

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7. 26,000 litres of paint

The bridge is painted after every 5-6 years. The last time it was in 2014, when 26,000 litres of lead-free paint was needed to cover it up.  A preliminary coat of anti-corrosive primer, a aluminium paint and finally a rubber based paint is applied to revamp the 23,000 tonne mammoth.

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8. A Lacklustre Opening

Between December 20-24, 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force bombed Calcutta. Fearing the Japanese might target the newly constructed bridge, the government opted for a lustreless inauguration on February 3rd, 1943.

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Howrah Tram Depot

Howrah Tram Terminus

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9. The Tram Service

The first vehicle to use the bridge was a solitary tram. Though eventually the tram service from Kolkata to Howrah via the bridge was discontinued in 1993.

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10. The Tagore Connection

Its is a known fact that the bridge has been named after Rabindranath Tagore as Rabindra Setu to honour India’s first Nobel Laureate. But it was his grandfather and merchant, prince Dwarkanath Tagore whole along with Zamindar Jaykrishna Mukherjee of Uttarpara, who conceived the idea of an iron floating bridge across the river in 1844. Though the idea never materialised

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