Even as the monsoon rains create havoc on city roads and flyovers, and buildings constructed recently develop cracks or are collapsing, the 136-year-old bridge on river Yamuna is still going strong.

Popularly known as 'Lohe ka Pul' (Iron Bridge) or the Old Yamuna Bridge, it is one of the oldest bridges in the capital maintained by the Northern Railways.

The Railway Ministry now has plans of easing traffic on the two-tier rail-cum-road bridge. The Federal Minister for Railways, Nitish Kumar, recently announced that two new bridges, separately for rail and road traffic will be constructed. The project is expected to be completed by 2005-06.

According to a senior railway official: "Preparation of preliminary details and designing of the railway bridge is already in progress."

Meanwhile, the Delhi state government has also been working on the project for a separate bridge for traffic, for which it has sanctioned an amount of Rs1.17 billion. The new bridge will be constructed near Geeta Colony along the Old Yamuna Bridge.

Considered a civil engineering marvel, the old bridge is closed to traffic whenever the Yamuna touches the danger mark during the monsoon. An estimated 100 trains and thousands of vehicles pass on the bridge every day.

To keep a watch on possible threats to the bridge from floodwaters during the monsoon, the water level and bed level of the river are recorded every day.

Informs the railway official: "Strict observance of standard, planning, lay-out and continuous maintenance has kept the bridge going over the years. The roadway of the bridge is also maintained by the Railways with assistance from the Public Works Department (PWD)."

According to the official, "The highest water level recorded so far has been 681.25 feet in 1978 when flood waters submerged many areas of the capital." However, at least four devastating floods during 1955, 1978, 1988 and 1995, have tested the bridge.

Built by the East India Railway in 1867 at a cost of Rs 1.6 million, the bridge consists of 12 spans of 202.5 inches each with two end spans of 34.5 inches each. It had a single railway line initially and was converted into a double line in 1913. An estimated 100 trains and thousands of vehicles pass on the bridge every day.

Says Ramesh Kumar, resident of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh: "I have been travelling on this route daily for the last 30 years. And am so used to the sound when the train passes from the bridge that in a way it is a wake-up call because I usually doze off in the train. I realise then that the train is nearing Delhi."

"Initially the vehicular traffic on the road was a lot less. But over the years it has increased as in any part of the city," said Kumar. "We do hear that experts are of the opinion that the bridge has outlived its life and is showing signs of strain due to the increase in traffic," he added.

"Obviously, the present traffic load would not have been envisaged at the time of its inception," says the railway official. "No doubt, once the project is over, both rail and vehicular traffic would be eased on the old bridge. But there is also a likelihood of the bridge being closed and remembered for its glorious days," he remarks.