Lansdowne Bridge, Sukkur

Posted on December 18, 2007
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Travel
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Owais Mughal

Any vistor to Sukkur-Rohri Pakistan is usually awe struck by the largest man made monuments in the area. They are two in number. One is the 118 year old Lansdowne bridge and the other is the 45 year old Ayub Arch.

In the photo above, silver metallic structure is the Ayub Arch and the brown metallic structure is the historic Lansdowne bridge. This photo is dated July 25, 2007 and is courtesy of Raja Islam

Indus was bridged at Attock in 1887 and that allowed Railways in India to run from the Western most post of Khyber Pass to the eastern city of Calcutta.

India’s rail link to the port of Karachi was however, still broken at the Indus flowing between the towns of Rohri and Sukkur. Indus was not bridged between Kotri and Hyderabad either therefore trains ran on Karachi-Jamshoro-Larkana-Sukkur route as early as 1879 and then they were ferried across to Rohri and vice versa on a river ferry.

At Sukkur the river Indus flows through a gap in a range of low limestone hills and gets divided into two channels (Sukkur and Rohri channels) by an island called Bukkur. The Bukkur island thus provides the best spot for a river crossing. See the satellite photo below, which shows two river channels between Sukkur and Rohri.

The river channel between Sukkur and Bukkur got bridged by 1885. The river bottom here is rocky so it provided solid foundations for masonry piers. This bridge got completed with three girder spans of 90, 230 and 270 feet. A 2007 photo of this bridge can be seen here.

Bridging the channel between Bukkur and Rohri was not so easy. The river bed here is not rocky but silty which made it difficult to build a bridge pier. Therefore bridge designs were put forward to build a bridge without a pillar. One such design was for an arched bridge but it was not considered in 1870s. Interestingly later on in 1962 the river was bridged using a very similar design that came to be known as the Ayub Arch.

Following shows the proposal of Lansdowne Bridge in the form of half-bridge diagram

Between 1872 and 1882 bridge survey was conducted and different people suggested 5 different bridge proposals. None of them was considered completely feasible at that time. An engineer by the name of Sir Alexander Rendel was then called in and he proposed a design consisting of two anchored cantilevers, each 310 feet long, carrying a suspended span of 200 ft in the middle. Interestingly, this design was considered feasible and later came to be known as the Lansdowne Bridge.

The girderwork of this bridge was given to Westwood, Baillie & Co. of London.

The bridge was first put together in the contractor’s yard. The 170 feet tall cantilevers of the bridge when assembled, made quite a conspicious scene in London.

By 1887 the steel work started to arrive at Sukkur and Rohri. The bridge construction was then started under the supervision of F.E. Robertson and Hecquet. Their names are written to date on a plaque on each cantilever of the bridge.

The construction of Lansdowne bridge was no joke. It is said that bridge designer didn’t thought much about how the bridge would be built in real life. Giant derricks, each weighing 240 tons and each being 230 feet in length had to be erected leaning out over the water and at the same time they had to incline inwards in the plane at right-angles to the line of the bridge. And as if that was not difficult enough, horizontal tie girders 123 feet long and weighing 86 tons each had to be assembled at a height of 180 feet. This indeed was a challenge in 1880s.

When both cantilevers were completed, work started on the center span. The bridge designer had intended that 200 ft long span would be assembled on boats and then hoisted up.

This plan did not work in practical as Indus remained quite violent 6 months of the year owing to floods. In the end Robertson built another temporary bridge to provide a platform on which the suspended span could be put together. This temporary staging wieghed 56 tons. The permanent girderwork of the 200 ft span was erected and riveted in four and a half days. This is a good going even with today’s standards. In 1880s Robertson’s men didn’t have pneumatic tools or electric drives.

The Human and Monetary Cost:

The construction of Lansdowne bridge claimed 6 lives. Four men felled from the dizzy heights and 2 were knocked out by falling tools on them. The cost of bridge was Rs 2,696,000 including Rs 276,000 that were spent on foundations only.

Bridge Testing:

On March 19, 1885, Lansdowne bridge was tested by running coupled L class locomotives and a train giving a gross load of 786 tons or about 1 ton per foot. The train crossed the bridge at a speed of 56 kmph (35 mph) and it caused a deflection of 8.9 cm (3.5 in) at the center of the 250 m (820 ft) span.

The Inauguration Ceremony

Lansdowne bridge was inaugurated on March 25, 1889. End of March is usually very hot in Sukkur, therefore the ceremony was scheduled for early morning. The chief guest was Lord Reay, Governer of Bombay who was deputising for Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy of India. Consecratoy prayers were offered by the Bishop of Lahore. The bridge was declared open by unlocking a big ornamental lock which was used to shut down the iron gates of the fortified entrance to the bridge. This lock was designed by J.L. Kipling, CIE, Principal of Mayo School of Art in Lahore and father of famous poet and author, Joseph Rudyard Kipling.

After the lock was unlocked, people attending the ceremony walked across the bridge and then adjourned for a breakfast followed by toasts under a shamiana (tent).

Enhancements to the Bridge:

In 1889 when the bridge was opened, the heaviest locomotive on this section weighed only 73 tons.
This weight was divided on 16 wheels including tender. With increasing loads, it became necessary to strengthen the bridge. Two such strengthenings were carried out in 1910 and 1939 by removing the dead weight of the bridge. In 1939, 200 tons of dead weight was removed from the bridge. This allowed eight engines coupled together with an axle weight of 17 ton to cross this bridge. The bridge was lightened by removing roadway decking. Two feet of walkways was retained. The road traffic between Sukkur and Rohri was diverted via the Sukkur (Lloyd) Barrage.

Neither Architecture nor Engineering?

While Lansdowne bridge is a feat of construction, not many people agree on whether it is aesthetically pleasing also.

Waddell, a well known bridge engineer of USA once said:

The appearence of the cantilever bridge at Sukkur is bizarre in the extreme and the structure is economical in neither weight of material nor cost of shopwork.

The publication of Engineer of July 11, 1884 was even more outspoken:

Contemplating the monstrosity of the general design, one would expect that in point of economy and detail construction, a fair degree of excellence had been attained. But neither is this the case. There are many ways of reducing the unsupported lengths of the great uprights and raking struts, and consequently of reducing material; but as these would involve some calculations of stresses beyond those of the most elementary kind, they were probably not deemed worth the trouble…. A derrick, the half of an English roof-truss, a Whipple girder, the other half of the roof-truss and another derrick, are very excellent things in thmeselves, but to string them together upon one line, thereby making a bridge, is not engineering, nor is it architecture.

Chronology:

1872-74: First site survey is made of Rohri-Sukkur area by J.Ramsey to bridge Indus here. He proposed a 650 feet long suspension bridge.

1875: The survey was continued by Major General Sir James Browne who recommended a stiffened suspension bridge with cables formed of steel links and a span of 786 feet.

Photo to the right is the satellite image of Lansdowne bridge and Ayub Arch.

1879:

(1) Railways reached Sukkur from Karachi.
(2) Sir Guilford Molesworth suggested a three-hinged arched bridge.
(3) J.R. Bell suggested a parallel truss cantilever bridge with a main span of 680 ft.

1882: A scheme of a bridge with 250 ft spans supported on masonry piers was proposed. This design was almost chosen when a severe flood in the river took its bed depth down to 100 ft and this design was shelved.

July 11, 1884: Publication of the Engineer called Lansdowne bridge design as a “monstrosity” which “is not engineering, nor is it architecture”.

1885: The Indus channel between Sukkur and Bukkur island got bridged.

1887: The steel work for the Lansdowne Bridge started to reach Sukkur from the Westwood, Baillie & Co. of London.

May, 1887: Bed plates for the Bukkur side of the Lansdowne bridge Cantilever arrived by the end of month.

Septemer, 1887: Full supply of steel works for the Rohri side cantilever arrived at the site.

March 19, 1889: Lansdowne bridge was tested by running coupled L class locomotives and a train giving a gross load of 786 tons or about 1 ton per foot.

March 25, 1889: Inauguration of Lansdowne Bridge.

1910: Bridge strengthening was carried out to increase the load it could carry.

1924: Permissible speed of trains on the bridge was reduced by 8 kmph (5 mph), after deformation and temperature stress was discovered.

1936: Harold Wood Robinson who was deputy chief engineer of bridges, prepared an outline design for a two hinged arch design to replace Lansdown bridge. The drawing was prepared in the Bridge office in Moghalpura, Lahore but this project didn’t see light of the day.

1939: Bridge strengthening was carried out to increase the load it could carry. This time 200 tons of dead weight of the bridge was removed.

Photo Gallery

1. Aerial View of Lansdowne and Ayub Bridges
2. Railway Bridge connecting Sukkur with Bukkur

References:

1. ‘Couplings to the Khyber’ by P.S.A. Berridge, 1962
2. 100 Years of Pakistan Railway by M.B.K Mallick, 1962
3. www.harappa.com

Photo Credits:

1. Mr. Iqbal Samad Khan
2. Raja Islam
3. msb1606 at flickr.com
4. British Library
5. Around the World in the 1890s.

ATP’s Other Posts Related to Railways:

1. Khyber Pass Railway
2. Bolan Pass Railway
3. The Trans-Balochistan Railway
4. Changa Manga Forest Railway
5. The Meter Gauge of Sindh
6. Railway Bridge on Indus at Attock
7. Khojak Tunnel
8. Chappar Rift
9. Karachi Circular Railway – Revival gets 1 step closer
10. Zhob Valley Railway (ZVR)
11. How the First Locomotive Reached Lahore
12. 3000hp Iron Horses of Pakistan
13. Karachi Tramway of Yesteryears
14. Lahore Rapid Mass Transit Rail Project
15. A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes of Bakhshapur
16. ek masla hai… A Railway Runs Through It
17. Ava Gardner in Lahore for Bhowani Junction

Pakistan Railway Discussion Group:

If you want to learn more about Pakistan Railways, then feel free to join the Pakistan Railway (PR) discussion group. Everything and anything related to PR is discussed here e.g. preserving of Pakistan’s rail heritage, steam locomotives, sharing of photos and news, time tables etc. You can join the discussion group here.

33 Comments on “Lansdowne Bridge, Sukkur”

  1. December 18th, 2007 2:39 am

    All the pictrues are very beautiful, i will be very happy to see these pictures.

  2. December 18th, 2007 5:45 am

    pul-e-siraat

  3. aac says:
    December 18th, 2007 6:26 am

    very very informative article. i have had the chance to visit sukkur barrage, its museum and the service trolley on top of it. that bridge is a marvel of architecture.

  4. Shahbaz Khan says:
    December 18th, 2007 6:41 am

    Goodness!!! Where did you get all this information?? This is the most informative article that I have read in many years.

  5. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    December 18th, 2007 7:57 am

    Wonderful job Owais. I have truly consumed every word of your post. And thanks for the link to my October 26, 2006 article “The Bridges of Pakistan”.

    Nineteenth century structural engineers were really excited about steel and often got carried away with its use. Often these structures were way over designed for their intended use and that is one reason these structures have lived past their expected life. But look at this way; these engineers and designers have left us a legacy that today we are rightfully proud of. It is my hope that a Pakistan Engineering Heritage Society was created that could take over the preservation and maintenance of these structures of historical significance. Is any one listening out there?

  6. December 18th, 2007 8:18 am

    Thanks for this post.

    All my life I have heard of this bridge but never read a good article like this.
    Congrats.

    Mohsin Abbas

  7. Junaid says:
    December 18th, 2007 9:11 am

    currently i am just few hundred yards away from it, this is a pure beauty specially when you look at it being in river on boat.

  8. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    December 18th, 2007 11:37 am

    @Owais Mughal,

    its monumental !! I think Pakistan is one of the rare
    country where we still have on 5 rivers and numerous canals,
    bridges dating back to more than 100 years.

  9. Aslam Talpur says:
    December 18th, 2007 12:53 pm

    A very good and valuable information on historical places of Sindh , I hope that it will resume on other places of sindh too

  10. Adnan Ahmad says:
    December 18th, 2007 1:30 pm

    Very informative. I enjoyed reading it.

  11. Karim says:
    December 19th, 2007 1:00 pm

    Really very informative – The article has inspired me to go on a long drive to Sukkur in future…:)

  12. Aqil Sajjad says:
    December 19th, 2007 4:47 pm

    Excellent post. You’re awsome Owais. :)

  13. December 24th, 2007 7:20 am

    beautiful bridge

  14. Hamid Shafiq says:
    December 30th, 2007 10:05 am

    Dear Sir,
    I like your article and happy to see the information related to lansdown bridge. In my previous visit to punjab i saw this bridge and really like it becuase both bridges produce avery good image. But sir my mother and some people told to me this bridge open by the single key its just like tower bridge London because the tower bridge london also a cantilever bridge. My question with you and the people who read this article it possible the bridge open it for trnasportation purposes. Because if some steamer funnel quite high so the bridge is open for crossing purposes. If you know about this thing you must reply to me and regarding this rumour. Because i visit this bridge because many people believe on this thing.
    yours sincerely,
    Hamid shafiq

  15. Owais Mughal says:
    December 30th, 2007 10:27 am

    Dear Hamid
    You are right that Lansdowne bridge was a single key operation but that single key belonged to a huge lock which was used to close the iron gate of the bridge. Remember that most of the railway infrastructure in Pakistan was built as strategic military railway therefore many installations had fortified turrets. e.g. building of Lahore station, tunnels of Bolan, bridge at Attock and Lansdowne bridge. so the lock you were refering to closed one of the fortified entrance to the bridge.

    Indus is not used for water way transportation as water near Sukkur is not deep enough for steamers (except during floods) as well as there is no bypass to Sukkur barrage 5 km downstream.

  16. March 3rd, 2008 6:48 am

    http://www.rohri.net

    there was New pictures about Rohri Lasndown and Sukkur Barage

  17. Waqas Ahmed says:
    March 22nd, 2008 10:55 am

    I visited there today. Its really really amazing. I mean u can’t stop thinking how is it possible without any support. if u didn’t visit there then go on.

  18. Faisal says:
    April 8th, 2008 4:48 pm

    Dear,

    I really appreciate you to gather such a large collections about these bridges,actually im from sukkur and im living in karachi and im doing Diploma in multimedia if u want any kind of help from me so plz contct to me on yahoo. i will help to u as much as i can.

    Faisal Siddiqui

  19. ALI AZHAR says:
    May 20th, 2008 7:43 am

    i belong to the historic city of rohri, and have spent all my child hood playing on the sands of leftbank of river indus and walking on the sideways of this magnificent iron structure, my father had a detailed photo album of lansdowne bridge but it got lost some where, anyway, this is beautiful and highly informative material on this bridge. full credit to writer! i have always been desiring this.
    many pakistanis know about this bridge but also have wrong concepts regarding its structure and history, which should be cleared after reading this article

  20. July 18th, 2008 2:36 pm

    i belong to the historic city of rohri, and have spent all my child hood playing on the sands of leftbank of river indus and walking on the sideways of this magnificent iron structure, my father had a detailed photo album of lansdowne bridge but it got lost some where, anyway, this is beautiful and highly informative material on this bridge. full credit to writer! i have always been desiring this.
    many pakistanis know about this bridge but also have wrong concepts regarding its structure and history, which should be cleared after reading this article

  21. July 18th, 2008 2:42 pm

    i belong to the historic city of rohri, and have spent all my child hood playing on the sands of leftbank of river indus and walking on the sideways of this magnificent iron structure, my father had a detailed photo album of lansdowne bridge but it got lost some where, anyway, this is beautiful and highly informative material on this bridge. full credit to writer! i have always been desiring this.
    many pakistanis know about this bridge but also have wrong concepts regarding its structure and history, which should be cleared after reading this article. I invite every tourist in pakistan there are intrested to visit my city Rohri. Thanks. Ghulam Mustafa Qureshi .

  22. Owais Mughal says:
    August 16th, 2008 6:40 pm

    The post is reformatted today and new photos added to it

  23. S. BAJAJ says:
    August 27th, 2008 9:57 am

    Dear Owais,

    I read your article. It is beautifully written and is really very informative.

    I had heard many stories about this bridge from my grand-parents who hailed from Rohri. They were the zamindars of that land before politicians divided our great nation into two. What followed the partition was bad for people on both sides of the border and for people of all communities. I genuinely wish that we all stop fighting in the name of religion and again get united to built the prosperous nation our freedom fighters had envisioned.

    I wish to visit Rohri at least once in my life-time and also wish to see our ancestral haveli, Meera girls school, the govt. boys school and the playground behind it…

    I sincerely wish that people on both sides become mature enough to forgive and forget each-others heinous acts and reunite…

    Amen…

  24. Anila says:
    October 30th, 2008 8:18 am

    the pics are really very beautiful…it shows da talent in pakistani nation…..the work is simply awsome and appricitable

  25. Owais Mughal says:
    January 3rd, 2009 10:22 pm

    One of the best night photos of Lansdowne Bridge that I’ve ever seen is here. Photogrpaher is Agha Waseem.

  26. Owais Mughal says:
    January 3rd, 2009 10:24 pm

    And here is a dusk time photo of Lansdowne bridge by Agha Waseem.

  27. CM Iqbal says:
    March 23rd, 2009 5:42 am

    Dear Sir,
    Though Lansdowne Bridge is outside the jurisdiction of National Highway Authority of Pakistan, but as an expert on design and rehabilitation of NHA bridges all over the country, somewhere in 2006, I was included in a team headed by Dr Lashari to assess the condition of the historical Lansdowne Bridge and also to suggest further measures for its rehabilitation. After the inspection of the structure I had reported that the bridge is structuraly safe for the current level of light traffic, however following is needed to maitain its structural safety for decades to come:-
    1) The expansion joints placed in the middle have deteriorated, and not being maintained and cleaned for a long time resulting into additional secondry temprature stresses.
    2) The abutment on the left bank has deteriorated which needs to be rehabilitataed by additional RCC work known as Slope Protection.
    3) The wearing surface is uneven resulting into addional impact forces due to the impact of wheel loads, also to reduce unnecessary dead loads, the old wearing surface should be scraped and relayed.

    I dont know about the present condition of the bridge, but I promise to check the bridge on my next visit to Sukkar.

    Regards
    CM Iqbal
    Mobile : 0333-5104919

  28. Owais Mughal says:
    April 24th, 2009 11:03 am

    Two Photos of Lansdowne bridge from April 24, 2009:

    Two rail bridges connecting Rohri and Sukkur (including lansdowne) are captured in this landscape photo here and this one of here of Lansdowne bridge alone.

  29. Saleh Muhammad says:
    May 27th, 2009 2:19 am

    The Lansdowne Bridge Rohri was a Railway bridge in present day Pakistan.

    A marvel of nineteenth century engineering, the ‘longest “rigid” girder bridge in the world’ at that time, was begun in 1887. The Indus Valley State Railway had reached Sukkur in 1879 and the steam ferry which transported eight wagons at a time across the Indus was found to be cumbersome and time consuming. Designed by Sir Alexander Meadows Rendel, the girder work weighing a massive 3,300 tons was erected by F.E. Robertson, and Hecquet. The ferry link between Rohri and Sukkur became redundant when Lord Reay Governor of Bombay. Detutizing for Lord Lansdowne, the viceroy, inaugurated the Bridge on March 25, 1889.

    Saleh Muhammad Abro (Larkana)
    PR Headquarters,
    Office Lahore.

  30. May 27th, 2009 3:24 am

    As summer comes early to Sukkur and the heavy European – style uniforms of the time would have been uncomfortable, the opening ceremony took place early in the morning. At the ceremony, Lord Reay unlocked a highly ornamental padlock (designed by J.L. Kipling, CIE, Principal of the Mayo School of Art in Lohore and father of Joseph Rudyard, the famous poet and author) which held shut the cumbersome iron gates guarding entry to the bridge. The gathered dignitaries then walked across the bridge and adjourned to breakfast followed by toasts under a shaman. (Berridge 1967:128) The bridge provided the railway link between Lahore.

    Naveed Iqbal
    AM (IT)
    Minisrty of Railway
    Islamabad

  31. waheed baloch says:
    September 17th, 2009 10:47 pm

    good effort keep it up!!!

  32. Shawn says:
    March 30th, 2010 8:32 am

    Excellent post!
    So the construction of Lansdowne Bridge claimed 6 lives. Four men felled from the dizzy heights and 2 were knocked out by falling tools on them.
    It is realty miserable.
    I will see this amazing beach on my next holiday trip to Pakistan.
    I am planning to book my flights and holiday package of Pakistan with the help of http://www.southalltravel.co.uk

  33. M. Bilal says:
    October 8th, 2010 3:36 am

    Very Nice article.

    I wish, we had time machine, that we could have traveled in the past to see how this amazing construction was done.

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