New Delhi: In view of recent mishaps, the Indian Railways has undertaken a massive, third-party audit exercise of critical bridges across the country to get an independent assessment of these crucial links in the rail network.
A total of 4,835 bridges have been identified for the third-party audit that is to be carried out with the help of international consultants, according to a senior Railway Ministry official.
"The international consultants will be selected through an open tender process to carry out the third-party audit," he told IANS.
There are a total of 147,523 bridges in the country's vast rail network - one of the largest in the world. Out of these, 700 are classified as "important bridges", 12,085 are described as "major" ones, and 134,738 are "minor" bridges.
There are 37,689 bridges which are more than 100 years old. In last five years, 3,758 rail bridges have been repaired or rebuilt and 900 more have been earmarked for strengthening during the current fiscal year.
While the present system of inspection of bridges is considered adequate, "keeping in view the recent incidents of part collapse of rail bridges, it has been decided to conduct the third-party audit of these bridges", the official said.
Accordingly, all zones have been instructed to carry out a one-time third-party technical audit of the bridges, he added.
There is a well-established system of auditing of bridges in which all the bridges are inspected twice a year -- once before onset of the monsoon and another after the rainy season -- by designated Railways officials.
Necessary corrective action is taken based on the condition assessed during the inspections, the official told IANS, adding that the third-party audit will strengthen rail bridges to ensure safety.
Out of the 4,835 bridges identified for the independent safety audit, 2,288 are foot over-bridges, 71 are mega bridges and 56 are rail flyovers. Some 94 are more than 80 years old.
Besides the inspection of bridges, track renewal is also going on full steam to prevent derailments. The Railways has given safety top priority status this year to make train operations mishap-free.
(Arun Kumar Das can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)