Official Name: Rabindra Setu
Design: Suspension type Balanced Cantilever and truss arch
Total Length: 705 m (2,313.0 ft)
Width: 71 ft (21.6 m) with two footpaths of 15 ft (4.6 m) on either side
Height: 82 m (269.0 ft)
Longest Span: 1,500 ft (457.2 m)
Construction Begin & End: 1936 - 1942
Opened:3rd Feb, 1943
Daily Traffic: 100,000 vehicles and 150,000 pedestrians


  • Rabindra Setu / Howrah Bridge - Kolkata, West Bengal
  • Rabindra Setu / Howrah Bridge - Kolkata, West Bengal
  • Rabindra Setu / Howrah Bridge - Kolkata, West Bengal
  • Rabindra Setu / Howrah Bridge - Kolkata, West Bengal
  • Rabindra Setu / Howrah Bridge - Kolkata, West Bengal


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Howrah Bridge, Kolkata

The Howrah Bridge / Rabindra Setu is a cantilever bridge with a suspended span over the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India. Commissioned in 1943, the bridge was originally named the New Howrah Bridge, because it replaced a pontoon bridge at the same location linking the two cities of Howrah and Kolkata (Calcutta). On 14 June 1965 it was renamed Rabindra Setu, after the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first Indian and Asian Nobel laureate. It is still popularly known as the Howrah Bridge.

The bridge on the Hooghly River is a famous symbol of Kolkata and West Bengal. It weathers the storms of the Bay of Bengal region, carrying a daily traffic of approximately 100,000 vehicles and possibly more than 150,000 pedestrians, easily making it the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The third-longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, the Howrah Bridge is the sixth-longest bridge of its type in the world.

In the view of the increasing traffic across the Hooghly river, a committee was appointed in 1855-56 to review alternatives for constructing a bridge across it. The plan was shelved in 1859-60, to be revived in 1868, when it was decided that a bridge should be constructed and a newly appointed trust vested to manage it. The Calcutta Port Trust was founded in 1870, and the Legislative department of the then Government of Bengal passed the Howrah Bridge Act in the year 1871 under the Bengal Act IX of 1871, empowering the Lieutenant-Governor to have the bridge constructed with Government capital under the aegis of the Port Commissioners.

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
Eventually a contract was signed with Sir Bradford Leslie to construct a pontoon bridge. Way back in 1860 it was felt that Howrah and Calcutta must be linked by a bridge. So a pontoon bridge was ordered from England and was assembled in Calcutta by the Port Trust. The bridge was considerably damaged by the great cyclone on 20 March 1874. A steamer named Egeria broke from her moorings and collided head-on with the bridge, sinking three pontoons and damaging nearly 200 feet of the bridge. The bridge was completed in 1874, at a total cost of 2.2 million, and opened to traffic on 17 October of that year. The bridge was then 1528 ft. long and 62 ft. wide, with 7-foot wide pavements on either side. Initially the bridge was periodically unfastened to allow steamers and other marine vehicles to pass through. Before 1906, the bridge used to be undone for the passage of vessels during daytime only. Since June of that year it started opening at night for all vessels except ocean steamers, which were required to pass through during daytime. From 19 August 1879, the bridge was illuminated by electric lamp-posts, powered by the dynamo at the Mullick Ghat Pumping Station. As the bridge could not handle the rapidly increasing load, the Port Commissioners started planning in 1905 for a new improved bridge.

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
The Chief Engineer of the Port Trust, Mr. J. McGlashan, wanted to replace the pontoon bridge, with a permanent structure, as the present bridge interfered with North/South river traffic. Work could not be started as World War I (1914-1918) broke out. Then in 1926 a commission under the Chairmanship of Sir R. N. Mukherjee recommended a suspension bridge of a particular type to be built across the River Hoogly. The bridge was designed by one Mr.Walton of M/s Rendel, Palmer & Triton. The order for construction and erection was placed on M/s.Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company in 1939. Again World War II (1939-1945 ) intervened. All the steel that was to come from England were diverted for war effort in Europe. Out of 26,000 tons of steel, that was required for the bridge, only 3000 tons were supplied from England. In spite of the Japanese threat the then ( British ) Government of India pressed on with the construction. Tata Steel were asked to supply the remaining 23,000 tons of high tension steel. The Tatas developed the quality of steel required for the bridge and called it Tiscom. The entire 23,000 tons was supplied in time. The fabrication and erection work was awarded to a local engineering firm of Howrah. It was the famous Braithwaite Burn & Jessop Construction Company Limited (BBJ).

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
Because of the war there was no opening ceremony and it was opened to the public in 1943. It is a unique bridge - one of its kind in the world at that time. The bridge was official classified as " Suspension Type Balanced Cantilever ". When it was commissioned it was the third longest cantilever bridge. The bridge does not have any nuts and bolts. It is of riveted construction. The bridge deck hangs from 39 pairs of hangers suspended from the main trusses.

With the completion of this bridge, India came of age in bridge construction and bridge building. But the actual tribute should go to the workers of The Tata Steel and Braithwaite Burn & Jessop Construction Company Limited (BBJ). In spite of Japanese air attacks ( the last Japanese air attack took place on 5th.December 1941 ) the work was competed in time.

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
It took only four years to complete the bridge and that too during war years when both men and materials were in short supply. Work went on round the clock in spite of strict black out in the city and there were no major accident during the construction.

The main tower was constructed with single monolith caissons of dimensions 55.31 x 24.8 m with 21 shafts, each 6.25 metre square. The fabrication was done by The Braithwaite Burn & Jessop Construction Company Limited at four different shops in Kolkata. The two anchorage caissons were each 16.4 m by 8.2 m, with two wells 4.9 m square. The caissons were so designed that the working chambers within the shafts could be temporarily enclosed by steel diaphragms to allow work under compressed air if required. The caisson at Kolkata side was set at 31.41 m and that at Howrah side at 26.53 m below ground level.

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
One night, during the process of grabbing out the muck to enable the caisson to move, the ground below it yielded, and the entire mass plunged two feet, shaking the ground. The impact of this was so intense that the seismograph at Kidderpore registered it as an earthquake and a Hindu temple on the shore was destroyed, although it was subsequently rebuilt. While muck was being cleared, numerous varieties of objects were brought up, including anchors, grappling irons, cannons, cannonballs, brass vessels, and coins dating back to the East India Company.

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
The job of sinking the caissons was carried out round-the-clock at a rate of a foot or more per day. The caissons were sunk through soft river deposits to a stiff yellow clay 26.5 m below ground level. The accuracy of sinking the huge caissons was exceptionally precise, within 50-75 mm of the true position. After penetrating 2.1 m into clay, all shafts were plugged with concrete after individual dewatering, with some 5 m of backfilling in adjacent shafts. The main piers on the Howrah side were sunk by open wheel dredging, while those on the Kolkata side required compressed air to counter running sand. The air pressure maintained was about 40 lbs per square inch (2.8 bar), which required about 500 workers to be employed. Whenever excessively soft soil was encountered, the shafts symmetrical to the caisson axes were left unexcavated to allow strict control. In very stiff clays, a large number of the internal wells were completely undercut, allowing the whole weight of the caisson to be carried by the outside skin friction and the bearing under the external wall. Skin friction on the outside of the monolith walls was estimated at 29 kN/m2 while loads on the cutting edge in clay overlying the founding stratum reached 100 tonnes/m. The work on the foundation was completed on November 1938.

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
By the end of 1940, the erection of the cantilevered arms was commenced and was completed in mid-summer of 1941. The two halves of the suspended span, each 282 feet (86 m) long and weighing 2,000 tons, were built in December 1941. The bridge was erected by commencing at the two anchor spans and advancing towards the center, with the use of creeper cranes moving along the upper chord. 16 hydraulic jacks, each of which had an 800-ton capacity, were pressed into service to join the two halves of the suspended span.

The entire project cost 25 million (£2,463,887). The project was a pioneer in bridge construction, particularly in India, but the government did not have a formal opening of the bridge due to fears of attacks by Japanese planes fighting the Allied Powers. Japan had attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The first vehicle to use the bridge was a solitary tram.

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata
On 24 June 2005, a private cargo vessel M V Mani, belonging to the Ganges Water Transport Pvt. Ltd, while trying to pass under the bridge during high tide, had its funnel stuck underneath for three hours, causing substantial damage worth about 15 million to the stringer and longitudinal girder of the bridge. Some of the 40 cross-girders were also broken. Two of four trolley guides, bolted and welded with the girders, were extensively damaged. Nearly 350 metres (1,150 ft) of 700 metres (2,300 ft) of the track were twisted beyond repair. The damage was so severe that KoPT requested help from Rendall-Palmer & Tritton Limited, the original consultant on the bridge from UK. KoPT also contacted SAIL to provide 'matching steel' used during its construction in 1943, for the repairs. For the repair costing around 5 million (US$83,000), about 8 tonnes of steel was used. The repairs were completed in early 2006. Again the total repairing process was done by "The Braithwaite Burn & Jessop Construction Company Limited.

Howrah Bridge - Kolkata

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