Saraighat Bridge – An Expedition
Musings of a Madrasi on Assam – 4

S Balakrishnan *

 The New & Old Bridges L&R. Credit -Kaustav, Wikimedia Commons
The New & Old Bridges L&R. Credit -Kaustav, Wikimedia Commons

The Saraighat Bridge in Assam is not only the first ever bridge over the mighty Brahmaputra River but also a ‘rail-cum-road bridge’ opened for traffic in the year 1962, now in its 62nd year! Am I overstating a mere trip to see Saraighat Bridge as an expedition? Your doubts apart, let us first see the importance and history of this oldest bridge across the River Brahmaputra.

You won’t believe but there was no bridge across Brahmaputra to connect Assam and other North-Eastern States with rest of India until 1962! I am still unable to digest this fact. The south bank of the Brahmaputra/Guahati was connected to the rest of country only through river transportation from across the northern bank.

There was railway line up to Amingaon (on the northern bank of Guwahati/Brahmaputra) from Bongaigaon, but it was river transportation from Amingaon that connected the southern bank of Guwahati/Brahmaputra. But the idea to construct a bridge across Brahmaputra was raised long back in 1910 itself. The lack of such a bridge, a vital link, was much felt by the British rulers during the II Word War (1939-1945).

Even the Bongaigaon-Amingaon railway line’s stability was susceptible to doubts during the devastating floods of 1942-43. This was later stabilised and strengthened and the momentum for a bridge across Brahmaputra gained strength. Finally, the decision to construct the bridge was announced in the Budget session of the Parliament in 1958.

When the bridge, named Saraighat Bridge, was finally opened in 1962, it did come in handy immensely during the immediate Indo-China war of 1962 in transporting men & material. However, the bridge was formally declared open by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru only on 7 June 1963. Nehru had laid the foundation as well (on January 10 1960), though work of laying the piers had already progressed.

The bridge was named Saraighat Bridge after the historical Battle of Saraighat in 1671. It was in 1671 that the Ahom army, under the leadership of its General, Lachit Borphukan, had successfully resisted the entry of the Mughals beyond Gauhati in the battle at Saraighat on the Brahmaputra bank.

The Saraighat Bridge was built between 1959 and 1962 by The Braithwaite Burn & Jessop Construction Company Limited (BBJ), a Govt. of India Undertaking, at a cost of Rs. 10.6 crores. Hindustan Construction Company had laid the foundations and piers for the bridge.

Completed in September 1962, the first engine rolled across it on 23 September 1962 (trial run). The first goods train had passed the Saraighat Bridge on Oct. 31, 1962. The roadway bridge on the upper deck was opened in March 1963.

   Train comes out of lower deck rail bridge
Train comes out of lower deck rail bridge

The length of the bridge is 1492 meters (4895 feet). The lower deck accommodates the rail track and the upper deck has the road bridge. The road bridge is 7.3 meters (24 feet) wide with two lanes. The bridge is 40 feet above the normal flood level of the river to ensure free navigation. The initial two rail lines of meter gauge laid in 1959 in the lower deck were later converted into a single broad gauge track.

The Saraighat Bridge has 12 spans and had used 14,000 tonnes of steel, 4.2 cubic feet concrete, and 40,000 tonnes of cement. 100 million cubic feet of earthwork were used to construct the 1.4 km long bridge connecting much of N-E with rest of the country through Assam. This rail-cum-road bridge is the property of North East Frontier Railway. The Bridge links Pandu in South Guwahati and Amingaon in North Guwahati.

By the side of this first ever bridge across Brahmaputra, another bridge has been constructed which is only a road bridge and not a road-cum-rail bridge. Named the New Saraighat Bridge or the Second Saraighat Bridge, this road bridge was opened on 28 January 2017. Started in 2007, it took ten years to build this 1.493 km long bridge at a cost of Rs 475 crores by Gammon India Limited.

Compare these details with that of the first bridge – just 3 years and Rs.10.6 crore and that too a rail-cum-road bridge when we did not have all that we have now! The new 3-lane road bridge has greatly reduced the pressure on the old bridge and has also eased traffic flow from South to North (one way), while it is North to South on the first bridge. Both the old and the new road bridges have pedestrian pathways.

When the old Saraighat Bridge completed 50 years in 2012, IIT Guhati was asked to validate its strength. It was found to be satisfactory. However, in 2019, the upper deck (road bridge) underwent major repair works. It was completed in a record 89 days, just within the target of three months.

While the upper deck was undergoing major repair works, the lower deck of rail track continued to function with necessary precautionary measures! All the 54 slabs on the upper deck were replaced along with the replacement of only 11 expansion joints over pillars. Fresh 10mm thick steel plates were laid and welded to the bridge over which high-strength concrete was laid to make the deck slabs.

More than 500 tonnes of the steel plate and reinforcement rods have been used for the deck slabs alone. 50 to 65 mm thick heavy-duty semi-dense bituminous concrete was laid over the entire deck to facilitate smooth vehicular movement. Besides this Saraighat Bridge, the first-ever bridge across Brahmaputra, there are two more such road-cum-rail bridges in Assam. They are Naranarayana Bridge (1999) and Bogibeel Bridge (2018).

Now that we have seen the facts & figures, let me brag about my so-called expedition to Saraighat Bridge. I had four wishes as regards this historical Bridge:

1. To travel across on the road bridge. This was achieved effortlessly when I visited the Amingaon Sunday market and returned to Guwahati. It was then that I unwittingly discovered this Bridge to my pleasant surprise.

2. To see a train come out of the rail bridge. For this I searched the web for train timings and went to Guwahati railway station also, and then rushed by bus (for the 3rd time) to the Northern end of the bridge to video the Shifung Express coming out of the rail bridge. I slid down the slope from the road to the track and waited like a child to see the train whistle past me. It was thrilling but I was also worried if it was allowed.

3. To walk the full length of the bridge on the upper deck road of the historical rail-cum-road bridge. After shooting the train, I climbed up and walked towards the road bridge but the sharp eyes of a sentry caught me. He said pedestrians were not allowed on the bridge (though it has footpath).

I was highly disappointed. He ordered me to catch a bus and return to Guwahati, as if I did not know. Clever that I am, I crossed over to the new bridge (only road bridge) and started walking on the footpath. To my dismay it was water logged (ankle deep) with moss and slush. Not only I had to evade the sentry on the other side but also be careful not to slip down.

I also had to enjoy the river flowing by and the scenery and take snaps as well for posterity. I could have walked on the motor path but the vehicles were whizzing past on that one-way bridge and the view was also blocked by the railing. It took almost 45 minutes to cover the entire length of the bridge step by step because of the slush.

A dramatic turn awaited me as I neared the end … three sentries were waiting there. I suspected that the first sentry might have tipped them off. So I jumped on to the motor path, immediately hailed a passing by auto-rickshaw, jumped into it and fled back to Amingaon (my 4th motor trip).

In the bus towards Guwahati (my 5th motor trip on the bridge) I crouched to avoid the first sentry’s watchful eyes. Only after the bus had crossed the bridge could I breathe normally.

4. My last desire to travel by a train on the famous Saraighat Bridge remains unfulfilled as I will be flying out of Guwahati. Train journeys are not comfortable these days what with unruly unreserved passengers conquering even the prestigious Vande Bharat trains!

Now, I am sure you would agree that it was indeed an expedition to the Saraighat Bridge.

* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for
The writer is from Chennai and can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on June 23 2024.

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