Pamban Branch Railway

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The Pamban Branch Railway was a metre gauge(MG) single line completed in 1914 by the South Indian Railway Company(SIR). [1] The line linked the SIR network in India at Madura by way of the Pamban Viaduct with the Island of Pambam, from where there was a ferry connection to Ceylon.

Prior to the construction of this line, traffic between India and Ceylon was carried via Tuticorin and Colombo, a route which line, which has necessitated a 12-hours' sea journey.


A railway to link Dhanushkodi in India to Talaimannar in Ceylon, a distance of 22 miles(35km), was a constant challenge to railway engineers. The route would follow the chain of limestone shoals known as "Adam's Bridge" between Pamban Island (also known as Rameswaram Island), off the Indian south-eastern coast, and Mannar Island, off the north-western coast of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Geological evidence suggests that this bridge is a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka [2]

The route was first considered in 1876 but no definite decision was taken until 1894 with a proposal from the Ceylon Government, followed a year later by a survey by the Indian Government. These proposals were rejected as the outlay was greater than the anticipated traffic would justify and the idea of bridging the sea was abandoned [3].

The route, described as the Madura-Pamban Railway in some records, was surveyed by Ernest Ifill Shadbolt between the years of 1888 and 1893. (see 'Personnel' below)


  • 1902, the branch of the SIR from Madura to Pambam Island was completed as far as Mandapam, a village on the coast on the mainland side of the narrow strait which divides the island from the shore, a distance of 90 miles (145km) [4]
  • 1908, after much consultion it was decided to build a viaduct from mainland India across the Palk Strait to Pamban Island with a "Scherzer Rolling Lifting Bridge" over the Pamban Pass shipping passage. The proposal involved:-
    • A short 6km extension of the existing railway line from Mandapam to the tip of the coast.
    • The construction of the 2 km long Pamban Viaduct across the submerged reef lying between the mainland of India and the Island of Pamban, this section to include the "Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge".
    • A 30 km line across Pamban Island via Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi to connect to the 'Indo-Ceylon Ferry Service'
  • Work started on the viaduct in June 1911 and completed in June 1913. The line was opened in February 1914 together with the 'Indo-Ceylon Ferry Service'


An on-line search of the India Office Records(IOR) records relating to this railway [5] gives the following: -

  • L/F/8/16/1095 “South Indian Railway Company Limited, Contract as to the construction and working of the Pamban Branch and the Travancore Branch; 1901"


No Staff Lists have been found.

The “Indian Biographical Dictionary” gives Ernest Ifill Shadbolt, Public Works Department, Executive Engineer from 1888 to 1893 as 'Engineer-in-Chief of the Madura-Pamban Railway Survey also Bezwada-Madras and Tinnevelly-Quilon Railway Surveys ' [6]

Further Information

See South Indian Railway
and Madras-Dhanushkodi Mainline


  1. Wikipedia "Pamban_Bridge"; Retrieved 21 Jun 2016
  2. Wikipedia "Adam's Bridge"; Retrieved 21 Jun 2016
  3. Southern Railway Heritage Centre "Marvels of the South Indian Railway 1859-1951", pages 63-64
  4. "Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1906" page 399; Retrieved 21 Jun 2016
  5. “British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue” - Search; Retrieved 26 Jan 2016
  6. “Indian Biographical Dictionary” 1915 page 390; Retrieved on 27 May 2016

Further Information

See South Indian Railway