Bridge strikes cost taxpayers millions of pounds and delay thousands of passengers and road users every year.
Typically, there are five strikes a day, increasing to 10 a day at peak times such as the run up to Christmas. In the four weeks to 5 March, Network Rail recorded 96 bridge strikes.
They’re completely avoidable but continue to affect the railway - like last week, when three bridge strikes occurred on our Anglia route in just two days.
In all three incidents, the lorries became stuck underneath the bridge but fortunately there were no injuries. However, bridge strikes bring rail and road traffic to a halt.
How do bridge strikes affect railway passengers?
The damage caused by bridge strikes means delays to journeys because we must make the railway safe again.
For instance, since 1 January 2019, there have been 20 bridge strikes across the Anglia route, leading to 851 minutes of delayed trains.
On our Anglia route, a lorry struck a bridge at Grove Green Road in Leytonstone at 11.15am on 26 February. It caused disruption to train services on the Barking to Gospel Oak line for more than 30 minutes.
Later that day, a bridge strike at Wood Street in Walthamstow caused disruption to train services between Walthamstow and Chingford for almost an hour and a half.
The next day, a lorry on Norwich Road in North Walsham, Norfolk caused minor damage to a bridge and disruption to train services for more than an hour.
How do we respond to bridge strikes?
We typically get train services moving again within an hour of the first call about a bridge strike to the control centre.
Here’s the typical chain of events:
The bridge strike is reported to a Network Rail control centre. Full details of the incident are taken and recorded on the control log of events for that day.
Control contacts a signaller, who stops the trains and initiates the required operating instructions. Special arrangements are in place for motorbikes, cars and light vehicles, and where people are trapped in vehicles or the vehicle is carrying dangerous or hazardous material.
Control arranges for an examination of the bridge. This is undertaken by two people: a bridge strike nominee (BSN) to examine a bridge up to a certain damage limit and a bridge strike examiner (BSE), who is qualified to assess all levels of damage to a structure.
A bridge strike at Wood Street in Walthamstow in February
Occasionally, the damage is so extensive that a specialist team needs to give further help. Each railway route has a Route Asset Manager (RAM), which makes sure structures remain safe and fit for purpose. The team comprises experienced structural and civil engineers.
Control then advises the police, the highway authority and other emergency services as required.
The BSN and or BSE evaluate the extent of any damage, so we can make decisions regarding the impact of any damage on the bridge’s ability to carry trains. We pass information from the site to control and the signaller.
Damage to the Worston Lane bridge north of Stafford
Train services resume as soon as we consider the bridge safe for trains. This typically takes less than an hour from first call to control but it can take longer.
The time taken to restore passenger services depends on the extent of the damage, time of day and bridge location. Routinely assessing the robustness of all bridges over public roads greatly helps in returning train services to normal.
We capture incident data and compile reports. We send them to the Network Rail safety reporting team, bridge management team and claims team.
Measure your vehicle
Drivers can easily avoid such incidents by measuring their vehicles and anything they’re towing before starting their journeys.