Gopalrao W. Kulkarni

One of the key rail engineers Gopalrao W Kulkarni credited for completing Churchgate – Mumbai Central quadrupling project in the 1970s and also of planning and executing the raising of Charni Road’s Frere Bridge among other works across several divisions of Western Railway passed away at the age of 88 years on Sunday.

He retired as WR’s chief engineer in 1990 after over 32 years of illustrious service. When in 2011, the Western Railway in Mumbai, one of the last remaining 1,500-volt direct current systems remaining in India, was converting to 25,000-volt alternating current that would allow seamless travel, make trains run faster and more smoothly, it required raising a few old bridges for more vertical clearance.

WR Raises bridge 3 Apr 1973 002
WR Raises bridge 3 Apr 1973

Speaking to this journalist in 2011, Kulkarni, then 79 years old, said he experienced a sense of déjà vu ashe had been the key man in the team that had overnight raised an over-bridge at Grant Road in the early 1970s.

“We were the first ones then in 1907s,” Kulkarni, who was an executive engineer at that time, had told me. “We had raised the 520-tonne Frere Road over-bridge near Grant Road station. There was excitement and also a sense of responsibility, as nothing of the sort had been done before in this city’s engineering history.”

WR to raise Frere bridge Mah Times 2 Apr 1973
WR to raise Frere bridge Maharashtra Times 2 Apr 1973

The Frere Road over-bridge connects Lamington Road in the east and Nana Chowk in the west over the rail lines near Grant Road station. “Train services were suspended for just eight hours on the night of April 19/20 in 1973. Our engineering feat meant considerable savings for the public exchequer,” he had recalled. Kulkarni, born in 1932, was posted in Mumbai for 18 years from 1972 to 1990.

WR engineers lifted the over-bridge in 2011 with the help of digital jacks, placed at four ends of the girder and lifted in centimetres in a synchronised manner. Iron spacers were placed, jacks removed, and the gradient levelled to meet the raised surface. The height was increased lane by lane. “The technology has improved tremendously. We had used traversers [similar to movable beams] and jacks back then. The idea was then to avoid demolishing a road over-bridge and building it all over again at a greater height,” Kulkarni had told me.

While in the 1970s, the Grant Road bridge had to be raised due to the low-lying tracks that used to get flooded during the monsoon.

“My father passed away on Sunday at Goregaon due to heart failure. He was 88 years of age,” his son Vinay Kulkarni said this week.


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