Beyond the News - FACT Analysis

Indian Jugad for an American problem

Harjap Singh Aujla
When I was serving the Government of New Jersey as a civil engineer during the 1990s, my administrator John Kraml gave me a ticklish problem, which no one else was willing to handle. During the 1840s and 50s a number of rail road lines were constructed all over the industrial coastal and Northern America. One of those lines was the Sussex Valley Rail Road. But when the automobiles proliferated in America, some of these rail road lines had to be abandoned. The Sussex line was considered uneconomical and was dismantled. The steel rails were removed but the timber sleepers were left to rot. Although the rail lines were gone, yet the bridges over the running brooks and dry water courses were not removed. These bridges were built for heavy goods traffic. The government wanted to use the right of way of the abandoned rail road line for making walking, jogging and bicycle riding trails for the common people. I was asked to evaluate the load carrying capacities of all the bridges so that no mishaps could occur. It was an uphill task, which would have taken years to analyze by using conventional methods. I covered the entire length on foot, which took me more than a week. I photographed all the bridges and took the measurements of all the steel sections used. I visually examined the piers and abutments. All the steel members being one hundred and fifty years old, were severely rusted. It was rather impossible to evaluate their load carrying capacity. I did not want to give up without exhausting all my options. Looking for a quick fix, I went to the design office of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, where a friend of mine Rajinder Pal Singh Chawla was a supervising engineer. He was very helpful and innovative, I was sure he could be of great help. Had I gone to anyone unknown, I would have faced a barrage of questions. I explained my predicament and asked him if he had a solution in mind. He looked at the pictures and found those familiar with some of the rail road bridges that he had analyzed on the main design office computer system. He asked me to minus 25% of cross-sectional area of the load-bearing members because of rust, but to keep the dead load unchanged and to feed the data into the computer. I did exactly that. Then he asked me to wait a bit. The computer hesitated initially and then started churning out the report. The first results were encouraging. One by one, I fed the data of every bridge and got the results for about a dozen bridges. According to the results the load bearing capacity of each bridge, in lay man’s terms, was less than that of a freight wagon but adequate for a passenger coach. But we were putting very light traffic. My purpose was served, all the bridges were fully capable of handling the loads of motor-cycles, Bob-cat maintenance vehicles and departmental vehicles. I prepared, signed and submitted the report to my higher authorities and after their approval, the way was cleared for converting entire length of the erstwhile rail road line into a walking and jogging trail. All that we had to do was to replace the wooden sleepers on the bridges and put a brand new decking made out of Canadian lumber and stain it for longer life. Horse riders are allowed to use the trail, provided they remove their excreta of horses. For lovers of nature, this trail is very popular. This is how an Indian Jugad worked in American conditions. To me Rajinder Pal Singh Chawla is an unsung hero.  

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