1914: India Builds Its First Sea Bridge – The Queen of Indian Bridges

February 24, 1914

In the southeastern area of present-day India, a new railway bridge connecting the town of Mandapam on the mainland with Pamban Island was officially opened. At the time of the bridge’s debut, this region was part of an administrative subdivision of British India known as the Madras Presidency. The structure is called the Pamban Bridge, and it was built by the South Indian Railway – which became part of the Southern Railway in 1951 — to further strengthen and facilitate transportation linkages between the Indian mainland and the British Crown Colony of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean. (The island country of Ceylon is now the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.)

The extension of railway service from Mandapam to Pamban Island meant that ships would only need to cover approximately 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) between the town of Dhanushkodi on Pamban Island and the settlement of Talaimannar on Ceylon’s Mannar Island. The Pamban Bridge was India’s first sea bridge. Measuring 6,776 feet (2,065 meters) in length, it also had the distinction of being India’s longest sea bridge until the inauguration of the 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) Bandra-Worli Sea Link in the western peninsular region of the country in 2009.

The Pamban Bridge was designed by Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company of Chicago, and it took only about two years to construct. Approximately 600 workers were involved in building the bridge. Those attending the bridge’s dedication ceremony included John Sinclair, governor of the Madras Presidency from 1912 to 1914; and Robert Chalmers, governor of Ceylon from 1913 to 1915.

During the first several decades after it opened, the structure became widely known as the Queen of Indian Bridges. The Pamban Bridge received a devastating blow in 1964, however, when it was severely damaged by one of the most powerful and deadly cyclones in India’s history. Due to the continued importance of the bridge, it was fully rebuilt in less than two months. Elattuvalapil Sreedharan of the Indian Engineering Service played a key role in that large-scale repair project. The Pamban Bridge remained the sole surface-transportation link between Pamban Island and the Indian mainland until the opening of the Indira Gandhi Road Bridge in 1988.

For more information on the Pamban Bridge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamban_Bridge and http://madrasmusings.com/Vol%2023%20No%2021/an-indo-ceylon-dream-of-the-20th-century.html.

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