Soane Bridge

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Soane Bridge

The East Indian Railway (EIR) opened the first major bridge [1] on the route over the River Soane (see Spelling Note) at Koelwar near Arrah in December 1862 to extend the line westward from Howrah to Arrah and onward to Moghal Sarai. The River was a major obstacle on the mainline route of the EIR. The bridge once opened became known as the "Koilwar Bridge"> [2] and carried a two-lane road under the twin rail tracks.

The monsoon-ravaged Ganges tributaries such as the wide Soane River were particularly challenging to bridge building; a major constraint for the EIR Chief Engineer George Turnbull was the lack of both quality clay and brick-building skills. Consequently a steel lattice-girder design was adopted which required importing ironwork from England [3]. The bridge steelwork was designed by James Meadows Rendel and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt in London [2].

An initial survey of the bridge site was made on 17 February 1851 by George Turnbull, Chief Engineer of the EIR; he determined that the river then was 5,350 feet (1,630 m) feet across - the completed bridge was 5,280 feet (1,610 m) feet across [2].

Construction started in 1856, disrupted by uprisings in 1857, and completed in 1862. Samuel Power was General Assistant to the EIR Chief Engineer George Turnbull on the construction of the Son River Bridge [4].

An engraved print “Railway Bridge over the Soane River” dated 1858 taken from the Illustrated News of the World is available at "India - Railway Bridge over the Soane River - Antique Print 1858”

From Grace’s Guide "Soane Bridge" [5]

The railway bridge for the East Indian Railway consists of twenty-eight wrought-iron lattice girders, each of 150 feet clear span, resting on brickwork piers 12 feet wide, these piers being built upon wooden curbs shod with iron and sunk into the clay bed of the river to an average depth of about 30 feet. The total length of the bridge between the abutments is 4,530 feet, added to which there are smaller spans on each side forming the land approaches.

The bridge (weighing approximately 3,500 tons) was constructed in the UK, and its erection in India was entrusted to the late Samuel Power, an experienced member of Mr. Brunel’s staff, with Bernhard Schmidt for his assistant. But before the work of erection had very far advanced, Mr. Power was compelled on account of ill-health to leave India, and on the special recommendation of himself and of the late George Turnbull, Engineering chief of the Railway, Mr Schmidt received from the Board full charge of the works with the rank of District Engineer.

1856 Work commenced.

1863 February opened. (Note: The 1918 Railway Board records show the ‘Dinapore-Mogul Serai Section’, which includes the Soane Bridge, opened 22 Dec 1862 [6])

1856 Report: “Iron Lattice Bridge for the East Indian Railway” York Herald - Saturday 29 November 1856, reproduced in Grace’s Guide [5].

A bridge of somewhat novel construction is now being made in this country (England) for the East Indian Railway. It is intended to cross the river Soane, one of the tributaries of the Ganges, and when complete will be nearly a mile in length. There will be 29 piers, and the span from pier to pier will be 150 feet, being about 26 feet more than the span of the arches of the High Level-bridge, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Like that structure, it will consist of two roadways, the upper one for the railway, and the lower one for foot passengers and palanquin bearers, the height from the lower to the upper way being 26 feet. The peculiarity of the construction is that the two roads are fastened together and supported by latticework of wrought-iron, combining great strength with a light and elegant appearance. The bars are of channel iron, and cross each other diagonally, being firmly riveted together at each crossing. One complete arch has just been constructed at the Elswick Engine Work, Newcastle, by way of experiment, and the result is most satisfactory. The entire weight is 120 tons. It was made with a slight curve, two inches higher than a dead level, and when tested with a weight of 362 tons it only went down two inches below the level, or four inches altogether at the centre. The separate lengths or arches will rest at each end on five rollers of cast iron, to allow of expansion or contraction, according to the variations of the temperature. The engineer engaged in the construction of this bridge (in England) is Mr. George Rendel, of London. As soon as the bridge is completed it will be taken to pieces in order to be shipped, and will be re-constructed in India'

Spelling Note - River Soane

  • “History of the East Indian Railway", Huddlestone, 1906", states ‘River Soane’ [7]
  • "Grace’s Guide", quoting a 1856 report, uses the spelling ‘River Soane’ [5]
  • "Imperial Gazetteer of India" names the river as The ‘River Son’ as a tributary of the River Ganges [8]. We normally take the Imperial Gazetteer of India as the definitive spelling but, in this instance, it is clear that other contemporary sources are more representative.
  • ”Wikipedia” uses the spelling ‘Son River’ with alternative ‘Sone River’ [9].
  • The East Indian Railway Book “The Symphony of Progress”, 2003[1], uses the modern spelling ‘River Sone’


  1. 1.0 1.1 “Symphony of Progress - The Saga of the Eastern Railway 1854-2003”; published by Eastern Railway, 2003; pages 11 and 14
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Wikipedia "Koilwar Bridge" Retrieved 14 Dec 2016
  3. Wikipedia "George Turnbull(civil engineer); Retrieved 14 Dec 2016
  4. Institution of Civil Engineers Proceedings Volume 33 Issue 1872, 1872, pp. 240-241 ; Retrieved 14 Dec 2016
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Grace’s Guide “Soane Bridge” ; Retrieved 14 Dec 2016
  6. “Administration Report on Railways 1918” page 53 (pdf62); Retrieved 14 Dec 2016
  7. "History of the East Indian Railway ..." by George Huddlestone, page 35, pdf page 57; Retrieved 14 Dec
  8. Imperial Gazetteer of India, v. 20, p. 54. ; Retrieved 14 Dec 2016
  9. Wikipedia “Son River”. ; Retrieved 14 Dec 2016