Railway bosses have launched a campaign to warn lorries to stop hitting their bridges, owing to fears that an influx of new recruits to tackle the driver shortage could make the peak accident season even worse.
Even in the comparative quiet of the pandemic, more than 1,600 rail bridges were struck in the last year by vehicles that failed to gauge their clearance correctly, costing millions in repairs and payouts for cancelled or delayed trains.
One bridge, Coddenham Road in Needham Market, near Ipswich, Suffolk, was hit 19 times during 2020-21, despite having been fitted with yellow collision beams.
Network Rail, which paid out more than £5.5m for delays from bridge strikes over the year, said incidents were likely to rise with more goods deliveries over Black Friday and Christmas, with a particular risk from the number of newly qualified drivers expected on the roads.
It has launched an education campaign with the slogan “wise up, size up” to remind drivers and haulage operators of the risks
Sir Peter Hendy, the chair of Network Rail, said: “Bridge strikes cause unnecessary delays, costs, and safety issues for road and rail users. To compound matters, they drain public funds, which should be used on upgrading and improving our network.”
He urged operators and drivers to “properly plan their routes, know the height of their vehicles and look out for road signs warning of oncoming bridges.
“Those who don’t are at risk of losing their driver’s and operator’s licences, and Network Rail looks to recover the entire repair and delay costs from the driver’s employer,” he added.
Posters will be displayed at points including motorway service stations across Britain. The problem has been such that Network Rail now has a team of bridge strike “champions” to raise awareness, who visit haulage companies to point out local risks.
Coddenham Road, Needham Market, Suffolk (19 strikes)
St John’s Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire (18)
Harlaxton Road, Grantham, Lincolnshire (16)
Stuntney Road, Ely, Cambridgeshire (15)
Bromford Road Dudley, West Midlands (13)
Watling Street, Hinckley, Leicestershire (11)
Warminster Road, Wilton, Wiltshire (11)
Ipswich Road, Manningtree, Essex (10)
Thames Street, Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey, (10)
Lower Downs Road, Wimbledon, London, (10)
Source: Network Rail