“A rail bridge in Lichfield is getting into the record books for all the wrong reasons” says Michael Fabricant. It is the most bashed in the West Midlands and sixth most lorry-bashed in Britain, Network Rail has revealed; and Michael Fabricant asks “Is more or better signage the answer?”.
St John Street bridge has been hit by lorries 86 times since 2009 – more than any other bridge in the West Midlands.
Michael Fabricant says “I am told that once again it is often due to truck drivers taking a short cut and treating roads in Lichfield District as a rat run. We see this in Yoxall too.
“While I am not calling for a weight limit yet on roads like St John Street in Lichfield, I will be asking County Highways to conduct a detailed study into whether there needs to be additional warning signs from the south of the railway bridge.
“It seems that already very clear signs on the bridge itself are not attracting the attention of truck drivers.”
Meanwhile Network Rail are calling for lorry drivers across the West Midlands to know the height of their vehicles to avoid crashing into railway bridges and causing hours of delays to train passengers.
The railway suffers almost 2,000 bridge strikes every year, costing the taxpayer some £23m in damages and delays.
‘What the truck’ and ‘Lorries can’t limbo’ are just two of the eye-catching straplines for Network Rail’s new ‘bridge bash’ campaign aimed at HGV drivers and haulage companies.
Research has found:
• 43% of lorry drivers admit to not knowing the size of their vehicle
• 52% of drivers admit to not taking low bridges into account when planning their journeys
• Five bridge strikes happen across the country everyday – with a peak of 10/day in October
• On average, each bridge strike costs £13,500 and causes two hours of delays to train services
Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail and a driver of a double decker bus himself, explains: "Size does matter when you’re a professional driver in a heavy vehicle. Not knowing the size of your vehicle or load could lead to a serious accident, and the loss of your licence.
"Every incident creates potential delay for tens of thousands of passengers and potential costs for taxpayers, and this is happening multiple times a day.
“It’s only a matter of time before road or rail users are killed as a result of this carelessness; we need professional HGV drivers and their operator employers to get behind and support this campaign to eradicate bridge bashing, which reaches epidemic levels at this time of year."
Network Rail is urging drivers across the West Midlands to fully understand the size of their vehicles and plan their route to avoid low bridges – too many drivers are chancing it under railway bridges with disastrous results.
The end of this month (October) sees a peak in the number of strikes, rising to almost 10 per day. Research suggests this could be due to the hour change and increased deliveries ahead of Christmas. Figures show most bridge strikes happen between 10am and 11am, but remain high all day until around 6pm in the evening and can cause hours of disruption.
Network Rail’s bridge bash campaign ‘What the truck’ will involve:-
- Engaging the haulage and public transport industries
- Fitting steel beams on rail bridges where there are a large number of strikes to reduce the impact, resulting in less damage to infrastructure
- Working with local authorities to ensure road signs displaying bridge heights are correct and up to date
- Calling for stricter enforcement of penalties for drivers when strikes do happen.
Network Rail has been working across the industry, getting key players on board and banging the drum about the issue to stop strikes before they happen. The rail infrastructure company has already started to raise awareness of the issue by visiting logistics companies, as well as working with trade bodies such as the Road Haulage Association (RHA) to get the issue on the map.
Last year a bridge strike in Rugeley cost Network Rail over £800,000. Landmark legal cases now mean that Network Rail can claim back 100 per cent of the huge costs incurred by bridge strikes from the offending company. Historically the company has struggled to get these back from hauliers which is a huge incentive for companies to take the issue more seriously.
Eddie Stobart, DHL and Wincanton have been a key partners for Network Rail and have already seen some great results from the work they have been doing to tackle the issue.
David Pickering, chief operating officer at Eddie Stobart, said: “We are pleased to be supporting Network Rail’s campaign as we have worked really hard to highlight the importance of our drivers knowing the height of their vehicles. As well as carefully planning routes to avoid low bridges, we carry out manual vehicle checks at the beginning of every journey which requires the driver to adjust the trailer height on a measurement in the cab. Additionally, we are installing software early next year which will warn drivers with an audible alarm when they are approaching a bridge. We have also tried some quirky ways of engaging drivers in the issue including our giant giraffe ‘Bridget’ in our training academy which serves as a constant reminder to our drivers of why they need to be bridge aware!”
Following months of research into why strikes happen, the campaign will be launched to all key players in the haulage industry calling on them to challenge their drivers to ‘check it, rather than chance it’ running until April next year.
Photo shows yet another lorry stuck under the railway bridge near Lichfield City Station.