Bridge strikes have become an increasing problem in our industry, with Network Rail data revealing that railways face nearly 2,000 bridge strikes every year - that’s five crashes every day. There are thousands of bridges in the UK, many of which were designed in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, catering for the then favoured transport of choice - the horse drawn carriage. Fast forward a few hundred years and our infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the advancement in transport. Despite many in the industry, including Network Rail and TFL, speaking openly about the impact of bridge strikes on our economy, little seems to have been done to address the problem, with damages to bridges continuing to increase.
What are the implications for bridge strikes?
While there can be various reasons for bridge strikes, the responsibility ultimately lies with the driver. As such, it is the driver’s responsibility to inform the rail company of the collision, so they can assess the damage and potentially close the trainline if the damage is severe enough. The repercussions of a bridge strike can be far-reaching; not only does the driver face potential penalty points on their licence and a hefty fine, but the driver’s company is also 100 per cent liable for the costs incurred by the damage and subsequent loss of revenue. While costs can vary, the average cost of hitting a bridge has been priced at £13,000, to cover both damages and subsequent delays.
However, the impact goes beyond a fine. Recently, we have seen residents in local areas campaign for change, as the constant damages are slowing transport development. The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway is a prime example of this, as local volunteers have shed light on the thousands of pounds being spent on a 115-year-old bridge which has been hit by at least 14 trucks since 2014. Not only has this cost them £72,000 to date, but it has meant that they are diverting costs away from developing facilities for new visitors or finishing Broadway station.
How can we prevent it?
Technological innovations can help address this issue. We have seen the introduction of smart warning signs reduce the number of hits, with strikes to Thurlow Park Bridge falling by more than a third after the installation. However, while this technology has been proven to reduce traffic incidents and costs, we should be looking to utilise new technology to tackle the problem.
Research from Network Rail has highlighted the lack of awareness among drivers, with 43 per cent admitting they do not know the size of their vehicle. If you pair this with the fact that 52 per cent of lorry drivers have admitted not taking low bridge routes into account when planning their journeys, it is clear we need to educate drivers and route planners rather than relying on quick fixes like warning signs or lights.
The best way to address this issue is for freight companies and fleet operators to invest in planning and tracking technology to streamline the process and ensure nothing is left to chance. There a number of options, ranging from hardware devices which can be installed on vehicles, to software that can be downloaded straight to a driver’s phone, such as the London Lorry Route Approver powered by Pie. This technology can take into account factors such as low bridges, right-turn-only navigation, and parking restrictions, as well as being 100 per cent compliant with local councils, helping to reduce the number of penalties and fines received.
Technology is of course an investment, but the short-term cost is minimal compared to that of repeated routing violations or expensive compensation following an accident. Fleet operators must be willing to innovate, and adopting technology is the first step towards a safer, more compliant system for all.
Pie CEO Stuart Hill