The oldest railway bridge across the Kabini river Nanjangud, KA - Will it be conserved and opened to traffic?

That so much of our future with respect to educating the posterity is dependent  on preserving our past  and giving due importance to heritage is an essential part of conservation. Heritages are meant to be preserved  and saved  so that past will not go unnoticed in the future.  Monuments highlight the cultural diversity and its ethos so their relevance to the present  should not be  either  overlooked  or just ignored.

 Until mid 2016s the railways never understood the  heritage value of  one of the world's oldest  bridges across the river Kabini near Nanjangud, Karnataka.  SWR Mysore Divisional Railway has the unique distinction of having many rich  monumental structures within their jurisdiction.  Among them, the most prominent one is the oldest railway bridge in the world near Nanjangud town. The fascinating fact is this masonry bridge stood the test of time and is nearly 280 years old and had been functional even before the advent of Railways, then in the kingdom of Mysore. Built by one  Dalvoy Devaraj who was a local chieftain and a visionary in 1735  at the entrance of Nanjangud Town, it followed the Gothic style with many arches made of  brick, sand and stone . Though it was built before the Railway tracks were laid, the bridge was and is more commonly tagged  as a Railway bridge

281 oldest Kapini river bridge,Nanjangud, KA,

2016 281 oldest Kapini river bridge, KA

Above image: Oldest bridge across the river Kabini near Nanjangud, Karnataka.  Since 2007 the bridge had not been used  and continuous negligence on the part of govt. officials led to the slow crumbling of the bridge. Lots of vegetation and growth of wild grass on the walls  and piers caused damages to the structure,  outer plastering and brickwork.....................

Oldest railway bridge, Nanjangud, KA

The bridge was built using brick, sand, lime mortar and stone. An engineering feat then, it has Gothic arches of 10 ft span and 8 ft wide intervening the piers. It is topped by a layer earth cushion of 5 feet over the arches to lessen the down stress.The bridge was so strong  the metre-gauge  track  parallel to road traffic over a length of 300 metres connecting Mysuru to Nanjangud was laid and commissioned in 1899 and  the meter gauge train ran on the bridge for more than 100 years from 1902 till 2007.

In 2021 October Mysuru division of the South Western Railway (SWR) decided to save  the 285-year-old Kabini Rail-cum-Road bridge,  so that  it would  become  a tourist attraction as the masonry bridge being the oldest railway bridge in the world. The proposal to build a  broad-gauge line may affect the heritage aspect of this old bridge.

The bridge  with 56 piers was closed in 2007 and decommissioned for traffic with the removal of meter gauge track. The railways were keen to lay a broad gauge line and this needed different alignment from narrow and meter gauges. The crux of the matter is so much time was spent by the officials over decision making and funds for renovating the bridge, part of the reason was whatever decision they took that should not damage or affect the heritage signatures.  

Railway authorities were concerned about  yet another hurdle and it is that of seasonal flooding for a short duration  particularly when SW monsoon is  active every year. The discharge from the Kabini reservoir exceeds 75,000 cusecs during monsoon season it may submerge the bridge. In 1991, over flooding created a critical situation that might have damaged the bridge.

The  South Western Railways, Mysuru  and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) have come together  to conserve the old railway bridge across the Kabini . The project envisages the following:  01. BG line will be laid on the bridge with care without compromising on the heritage aspects, 02. The old structure will be strengthened to bear load-carrying capability of masonry arches,  03. Additional precautions will be set in place  when the bridge is flooded during heavy monsoon. 04. Illumination of the bridge during night. 05. Apart, there is a proposal to revive  an earlier one mooted by the authorities to have a restaurant on wheels using meter gauge bogies. This unique proposal may attract lots of visitors who need a change from mundane stuff.