The 1914-built cantilever railway bridge that opens upwards in the middle for ships to pass under, has 146 steel girders and is located in one of the most corrosive areas in the world, the official, not wanting to be quoted.
“Every 15-20 years, the girders are replaced in a cyclical manner. The changing of 16 girders is in progress and the change of another 27 girders will be taken up early next year,” he said.
According to him by the end of next year, the Pambam bridge will have entirely new girders that need not be changed for the next 10 years.
He said there are plans to mechanise the lifting of the bridge that is now done manually.
“It takes around 30 minutes to open and close the bridge. Ships are allowed under the bridge when there is no train service. The time available for ships to pass under the bridge is around three hours. Once mechanisation comes in, then the opening and closing of the bridge will happen in around five minutes,” the official explained.
Crossing the bridge in a train is a fascinating experience — hearing the sound of the train crossing the bridge and the calm sea below.
A slight fear creeps in when one remembers the story of the Boat Mail train with over 110 passengers and Dhanuskodi a few kilometres from Rameswaram having been washed away by a huge tidal wave in 1964.
Traditionally a pilgrimage centre, Rameswaram offers rail bridge tourism, disaster tourism (visit to ‘ghost town’ Dhanuskodi gobbled up by sea in 1964) and temple tourism, among others.