November 4, 1862
In eastern India, a newly completed bridge located at the town of Koilwar and spanning the Son River in the present-day state of Bihar was opened to railway traffic. (This bridge made its debut at a time when that region of India was part of the Bengal Presidency, a subdivision of the British Empire.) The Koilwar Bridge was built to serve as a link between the city of Patna on the east side of the Son River and the town (now city and municipal corporation) of Arrah on the river’s west bank.
The plans for this bridge began in earnest in 1851 with an initial survey of that site that was made by George Turnbull (1809-1889), chief engineer of the East Indian Railway Company. Those who helped design the Koilwar Bridge included civil engineer James Meadows Rendel (1799-1856) and architect Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877). Construction on the bridge was initiated in 1856. This structure was formally inaugurated in 1862 by James Bruce (1811-1863), who had been appointed viceroy and governor-general of all of British India’s provinces (including the Presidency of Bengal) earlier that same year.
Measuring 4,720 feet (1,440 meters) in length, the Koilwar Bridge started out as the longest river bridge in the entire Indian subcontinent. It held this record until the opening of the 10,036-foot (3,059-meter)-long Upper Son Bridge (also called Nehru Setu), which likewise crosses the Son River in that part of India, on February 27, 1900.
The Koilwar Bridge remains in service today for not only trains but also motor vehicles. This structure is now officially known as the Abdul Bari Bridge. Abdul Bari (1892-1947) was one of India’s most renowned social reformers. Another one of the Koilwar Bridge’s claims to fame is its status as the oldest operational railway bridge in India. In addition, this bridge appears in the Oscar-winning 1982 film Gandhi.
Photo Credit: Abdulbarisif (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
For more information on India’s longest bridges above water, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest_bridges_above_water_in_India