It would seem like the world’s oldest bridge is on the verge of a breakdown. The Kabini Bridge, often touted as the world’s oldest railway bridge, not far from the Nanjangud Railway Station is suffering due to a chronic lack of maintenance on the part of the railway authorities, who own this heritage property. Shrubs and bushes adorn the bridge rendering it as a relic, when in fact it is functional, but only for narrow guage trains, which went out of fashion in 2007.
Locals S Chandrashekar and M Girish said “It’s really a matter of great pride for us to have the world’s oldest railway bridge in our home town Nanjangud. Railway authorities along with tourism department should take initiatives to promote this heritage structure. In foreign countries and also in other states even if they have a small place like this they will try to make it attractive and promote the place but here though it happens to be world’s oldest railway bridge the authorities have so far failed to do anything. At some places, due to lack of maintenance there is already damage to the structure.”
N Muthukumar, Chairman, Confederation of Indian Industry, Mysuru echoed the sentiments of many when he said “Really it’s a matter of great pride to have such structures in Mysuru. I will meet the concerned railway authorities and try to come out with suitable plans to give new lease of life to the Kabini Bridge which happens to be the world’s oldest bridge”.
The Kabini Bridge was built by DalvoyDevraj in 1735 with brick, sand and stone in Gothic style. Though it was built before the railway tracks were laid, the bridge was and is more commonly labelled as a Railway bridge. The Kabini Bridge has a series of Gothic arches of 10ft span with 8ft wide intervening piers. The earth cushion over the arch crest is over 5 feet. The foundations are laid on rocky strata and built in lime concrete. The bridge is of stone masonry with lime concrete filling and mortar. It has 51spans of 10 feet and before 1902 it existed as a road bridge ferrying bullock, camel and horse carriage traffic across the Kabini. A narrow gauge Railway line was being built from Mysore to Nanjangud in 1902 and the Railways used the arched bridge to connect it to the Nanjangud railway station.
Trains ran on this bridge from 1902 to 2007. The last train to run on this heritage rail infrastructure was on January 17, 2007 when the Railways decided to put a stop to meter gauge trains and operate broad gauge trains. Since broad gauge needs a different alignment from narrow and meter gauges, a new bridge was built across the Kabini. To their credit, the railways did seek the help of private enterprise for the sustainable development of the abandoned railway structure. The railways proposed a restaurant and a heritage gallery in the metre gauge coaches to bestationed onthe Kabini Bridge, besides developing colourful amusement play stations for children. There was also a plan to develop Kabini Bridge into full-fledged tourist spot at an estimated cost of Rs 25 crore on a 50-50 partnership basis between the railways and the state government. However the state government declined to invest its half, as a result of which the entire plan was dropped. The railways are however yet to chalk out further plans to restore the bridge which is deteriorating and decaying due tounuse, abuse and a lack of maintenance.
Speaking to Karnataka Today, Atul Gupta, Divisional Railway Manager, Mysuru division, South Western Railway who took charge couple of months back as DRM assured to look into the matter and take suitable steps. “I will look into it and take appropriates steps to preserve the bridge. Only after knowing more about the place can I take further steps” added Gupta.
The tourism department too was enthusiastic. Shashi Kumar, Deputy Director, Tourism Department said “We will try to speak to railway authorities and try to do best for the world’s oldest railway bridge”.
Let’s hope that one day we may be able to sit in a train, albeit stationary, on a restored Kabini bridge, and the world will once again marvel at this wonderful icon of history.