Trains have continued to ply the century-old railway bridge over the River Teesta, the longevity of which expired two decades ago, posing grave risk to the commuters.
The 2,110-foot Teesta Railway Bridge has not been overhauled since it was built 120 years ago at Kauniaupazila in Rangpur, connecting the Rangpur district in the south with Lalmonirhat and Kurigram districts in the north.
The lifespan of the bridge, built in 1899-1900 by the then British government, was 100 years. Although the bridge expired two decades ago, every day 20 trains, including two intercity ones, still ply on the bridge.
However, the railway authorities said tenders have been floated to repair the bridge. Once the fund is allocated, the bridge will be overhauled as soon as possible.
Being damaged during the war of independence in 1971, the bridge was repaired in 1972, bringing spans, girders and other equipment from another bridge.
For a long time, the bridge was used only for rail communication while an alternative bridge was built and used for road communication. After a feasibility study in 1977, the Railways Department and Roads and Highways Department jointly installed steel plates and wooden decks beside the meter gauge line to introduce road communication on the railway bridge. From 4 March 1978, road communication officially started on the bridge.
Since then, trains along with passenger buses, trucks and other vehicles have been plying on the bridge, gradually increasing pressure on the bridge. Due to the excessive pressure, the bridge has been damaged to a great extent, turning it risky for the commuters.
Later in 2001, the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Teesta Road Bridge next to the railway bridge. The Teesta Road Bridge was inaugurated on 20 September 2012. After the opening of the road bridge, the movement of vehicles through the railway bridge was stopped, turning the bridge exclusively for trains only.
During a recent visit to the rail bridge, it was found that many wooden slippers on the bridge's rail track have been decayed. In some places, the dilapidated wooden slippers are hanging down from the bridge. In many places, the rail tracks do not have the iron plates used to fasten the railway with slippers.
Hashem Mia, Quader Hossain, Sajjad and many others from the Teesta Bridge area said that the bridge has been neglected for a long time. Showing off, sometimes the railway authorities do some work, but that is not sufficient.
They said for the sake of the security of hundreds of people, the bridge needs a complete overhaul. Twenty trains pass through this bridge every day, carrying numerous passengers. The railway bridge is in a very dangerous condition at present as many parts of the bridge are defective.
Therefore, the locals urged the government to take effective measures for the development of the bridge to avoid accidents.
Farhad Ali, a local from Kaunia who frequently travels by train on the bridge, said, "The dangerous railway bridge should be repaired immediately. I have to take the risk of life regularly to go to Dhaka. Trains bound for Dhaka from the north are running every day on the bridge."
Siddiqur Rahman, a local businessman, said that he has to cross the bridge to go to Dhaka every 4-5 days, risking his life. "Only Allah knows when I would face an accident," he said.
In this regard, Rangpur Divisional Railway Manager Shah Sufi Nur Mohammad said, "The Teesta Bridge has been repaired. However, one or two fittings might have some problems, but that would not pose any threat to plying of trains on the bridge. We have a plan to implement a project, constructing a double broad gauge bridge on the river. This old bridge will no longer be used once the double broad gauge bridge is constructed."
Rangpur Divisional Additional Commissioner Md Zakir Hossain said trains run through this bridge to land ports in Lalmonirhat and Kurigram. As the bridge is very important, the railway authorities will be asked to take action. The railway ministry will be requested to renovate the bridge.