The Crossing at Attock:
As soon as the British annexed area around present day Punjab-NWFP boundary, they started working on the idea of bridging Indus at Attock. The crossing at Attock was considered very important for military strategic reasons. In 1853, one Colonel Crommelin proposed two designs, both which made use of suspension bridges to cross the Indus. While this design didn’t go forward, British provided a better bridge of boats for winter, ferry boats for summer and a light rowing boat for daak (postal services).
In 1865, Colonel A. Robertson summarized three types of projects that were being thought of to cross Indus at Attock.
(1) On the river itself - by boats
(2) Over the river - by a bridge
(3) Under the river - by a tunnel
Before There was a Bridge - There was to be a Tunnel at Attock:
While projects proposing boats and ferries didn’t go farther, the idea of digging a tunnel under Indus at Attock actually got to working stages.
In 1859, Colonel Robertson proposed the idea of a tunnel and following is an extract from his report:
The dimensions I propose for the tunnel inside are twenty-four feet wide by twenty feet in height, and a lining under the river of brick masonry two feet thick. This places foundation level of the roadway 82 feet under the low water level, and placing the entrances one hundred feet above this level for safety, we have 182 feet to descend and ascend. The grade I propose is 1 in 20; this is rather steep for railway traffic but offers no difficulties for normal road traffic. The width of the river bed at the point I have selected for the tunnel is 1215 feet.
As a result of the detailed report from Colonel Robertson, of which an excerpt is given above, British Government sanctioned Rs 10000. Work started on building this tunnel on 12 March 1860. In June of same year, water leakage in the tunnel works made the project suspended for few months. In January 1861, another grant of Rs 10770 was approved but work never caught pace. Some heavy machinery could not be obtained on time and work got suspended again from May to November of 1861. In summer of 1862 another machinery breakdown caused the work to stop. By now British government had spent Rs 59300 which was far more than the original estimate. At this time work was stopped until a study could be made about all the challenges and causes of delays.
When work stopped on the tunnel only 258 feet distance remained between the two ends of the boring to meet under the bed and complete the tunnel.
This is an amazing piece of history related to bridging effort of Indus at Attock. I don’t think many people know that a tunnel was dug here which came as close as 258 feet of making a thoroughfare before it was abandoned.
Does the Tunnel Under Indus Bed at Attock Still Exist?
I don’t know. But I would love to know. I wonder if the two ends of tunnel are still there? Does the tunnel ends still go under river bed or is it by now totally flooded? Do any of our informed readers know?
One reference  tells us that by 1862 water leakage in the tunnel had become so serious that men at work could not keep up with drainage, and the project was shelved.
No one tried to build another permanent crossing at Attock for the next 20 years until another war with Afghanistan occured and this time the British orders came to finish the railway track up to Peshawar at all costs.
The Railway Bridge at Attock:
The Attock Bridge on the Indus was originally designed by Sir Guildford Molesworth (1828-1925). Guildford was also the first General Manager of Sri Lankan Railway, which was then called Ceylon Railway. The bridge is located about 80 km (50 miles) south west of Peshawar and forms one of the most important strategic and commercial crossings on the Indus. The structure was designed and constructed by Sir Francis O’Callaghan and Mr. Johnson.
Civil Engineering at the Bridge Site:
The place where Bridge is built used to be 600 ft wide during winter months. In the center of the river there is a huge shallow rock. It was considered to form the foundation of center pier. All other foundations were above water and presented no serious difficulty. The bridge consisted of 5 spans. Three of them are 257 ft long and two are 312 feet long. The latter were, at the time, the longest in India.
The girders were of double intersection type carrying the railway on a floor system attached to the the top booms and the Grant Trunk Road on a floor supported by the lower booms. At the time of cnstruction the Attock girders; 26 ft deep; were the largest erected in India. The cost of the bridge was more than Rs. 3.2 million.
Attock Railway Bridge opened for traffic on 24th May 1883.