Oversized lorries hit rail bridges every week in Wales and the borders causing misery for travellers

Thousands of rail passengers in Wales and the borders will suffer hours of delays and cancellations in the next month as ‘bridge-strikes’ – when a lorry that’s too big hits a low bridge – reach their peak.

Almost 2,000 bridge strikes happen across the UK every year, costing the taxpayer some £23m in damages and delays, and new figures reveal strikes are most common in October and November.

When a rail bridge is struck by a high sided vehicle it must be examined by a qualified engineer to see if it has been damaged. Depending on the bridge, trains may have to travel at a reduced speed or could be stopped completely until the examination has taken place, to ensure the safety of passengers.

In Wales and the borders, there have been more than 900 bridge strikes since 2009, costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds and causing hours of delays to rail passengers. Innovative technology is now being used on Bute Street rail bridge in Cardiff, one of the busiest railway bridges in Wales.

A remote bridge camera system has been installed on the bridge, which carries the Valley lines in and out of Cardiff and has already experienced three strikes this year. The new system will allow engineers to remotely monitor the structure when a strike occurs. This reduces the time it takes to confirm if any significant damage has been caused to the structure and it means trains can get moving again quickly once it has been established the structure is safe.

Network Rail has also been working with haulage companies to urge drivers to measure vehicles and plan their route to avoid bashing bridges as part the ‘What the truck’ campaign, which involves:

  • 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.

Billy Kelly, chief operating officer for Network Rail in Wales and the Borders, said: “We would like to remind drivers to check the height of their vehicles before passing under any bridges.

“Every time a large vehicle strikes a rail bridge, it can cause inconvenience for thousands of passengers in Wales and the borders, as well as potential costs for taxpayers.

“We work closely with our partners Arriva Trains Wales to get passengers on the move as quickly and safely as possible when an incident does occur, but we need HGV drivers and their employers to get on board with our initiative and make bridge strikes a thing of the past.”

Lynne Milligan, customer services director at Arriva Trains Wales, said: “Safety is paramount on Britain’s railways so I am delighted that our partners in Network Rail are introducing this new technology that will reduce the amount of disruption to customers whilst keeping us safe.”