Willingdon Bridge or more popularly known as Bally Bridge (now called Vivekananda Setu) will be celebrating its 90th birthday today. The bridge was inagurated by the then Viceroy of India Marquess of Willingdon on 29th December, 1931. A stone plaque commemorating the event is found at the Dakshineswar side of the bridge, though the condition of the same is not in a good state.
Previously the third bridge over the Hooghly river after the floating Pontoon Bridge designed by Sir Bradford Leslie opened to traffic on 17th October, 1874 and Jubilee Bridge, a railway bridge connecting Naihati on 24 Parganas district (now North 24 Parganas) with Bandel on Hooghly district opened on 21st February 1887, Bally Bridge has served the people for ninety years at a stretch. In this connection it would be proper to mention that both Pontoon bridge was replaced by Howrah Bridge in 1943 and Jubilee Bridge, now decommissioned from service on and from 16th April, 2016 was replaced by Sampreeti Bridge. Bally Bridge is also unique in the sense that it is the second longest serving bridge (providing both road and rail link) over the Hooghly river in West Bengal after Jubilee Bridge; but the latter being a rail bridge does not provide road link.
A new bridge known as Nivedita bridge (a toll bridge) was built about 50 metres downstream of Bally Bridge (now known as Vivekananda Setu) and opened on July 2007 mainly to reduce the load of the ageing Bally Bridge. But still then the bridge caters rail, road and pedestrian traffic. The Sealdah-Dankuni railway line passes through the middle of the bridge with separate sides on both the directions for vehicular transport. Pedestrians also walk on both the sides of the bridge and, during evening people are seen taking a stroll.
Previously Bally Bridge was a toll bridge and one could even find the old toll rooms. There is an old staircase just at the place where the bridge starts at Dakshineswar side where I found the old stone plaque which mentions the date of the opening of the bridge. Taking that way one will reach the jetty ghat to board the launch going to Belur Math. The 880 metre long bridge connects Dakshineswar with Bally. In the evening after sun down one can even witness the beautiful sight of the lighted Dakshineswar Temple.
The construction of this “mutispan steel bridge” started in 1926 and it took more than five years to complete. It was started by Kutch-based railway contractor and industrialist Rai Bahadur Jagmal Raja. The bridge has a total of seven spans each at a distance of 350 feet. An amount of Rs. 1,14,67,000 was spent towards the total cost of construction of the bridge which, during those days was quite a sum. As the river Hooghly was wide at the Bally side, it was pretty difficult to construct the bridge. Moreover the Port Commissioners have realised the fact that owing to the much greater width of the river at the Bally side and also owing to the retardation of tidal flow piers must be permitted there at the side if ever a bridge is to be built. Another fact is that the direction of the tidal current is straight at the Bally side. There is a railway station at both the ends of the bridge – Dakshineswar and Bally Ghat stations situated at a distance of only two kilometres. The construction of Willingdon Bridge was not only the most expensive but also one of the difficult of the railway bridges to be constructed in India during that time. Even today a close look at the bridge will remind you of the engineering wonder of those days. The first train which ran across Willingdon Bridge was named as Jagmal Raja Howrah Express. Bally Bridge links Grand Trunk Road in Howrah with Barrackpore Trunk Road in Kolkata side.
1. Anchalik Itihas Baranagar– (10) by Ajit Sen.
2. New Bridge between Calcutta and Howrah Appendix to the Report of the Committee of Engineers Feb 1922 Volume II.
3. Grace’s Guide “Willingdon Bridge”.
Date of Posting: 29th December, 2020.