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We can protect railways and lives by being smarter about the low bridge problem

Much has been made of the nationwide road epidemic that rears its head this time every year. ‘Bridge Strikes’, when unwitting truck drivers crash their vehicles into low rail bridges, are estimated to cost taxpayers £23m in damages and delays, and cause even more havoc to road systems.

The issue, that is annually at its worst towards the end of October, has been widely covered by the media, including the BBC, Evening Standard and notably Network Rail. The latter have been the most vocal in seeking a solution, and their nationwide campaign, ‘Check it, don’t chance it’, aims to change driver behaviour in order to lower the number of incidents. Its heart is in the right place, but supplemented by far more measurable and practical solutions, we could take serious steps to eradicating this problem nationwide.  More on that shortly.

The ‘Bridge Strike’ statistics are these, and highlight the importance of solving this problem now:

  • 1,700 network rail bridges are hit every year
  • An average incident costs a total of £13,500
  • A single strike creates a typical delay of 2 hours
  • At the end of October and start of November, 10 bridges are hit each day
  • In total, the cost to the tax player is estimated at £23m a year

‘Check it, don’t chance it’

Network Rail are pushing a campaign that puts more responsibility in the hands of truck drivers, which is absolutely necessary to take on this issue. In our own survey, only 12% of truck drivers knew their vehicle size accurately. The ‘Check it, don’t chance it campaign urges drivers to not only be aware of the height of their vehicle, but actively plan their route ahead of time to avoid any low bridges. In theory, this is a great initiative that should severely reduce the number of Bridge Strikes. But in practice it’s sure to come across some hurdles.

While changing the behaviour of an entire industry is idealistic, it’s arguably just as unrealistic. With tight deadlines to meet, and innumerable tedious journeys up and down the country to complete, many truck drivers could be forgiven for not being as strict with these guidelines as they possibly should. More than that, sufficiently raising awareness of this campaign is a hurdle in itself. A more practical solution, surely, takes the bulk of the responsibility away from hard working drivers, and puts it onto our road systems and signs. In short, our roads could be better equipped to warn drivers of impending crashes before they occur.

A Practical Solution

The truth is, the overheight vehicle problem is not one that is unique to railway bridges. All across the country, low bridges and tunnels that were built as long as centuries ago, cause havoc for truck drivers as their load requirements continue to change. This is a situation that is being handled and improved by road sign specialists, such as Coeval UK, every day. When practical solutions are implemented, they are having measurable success on decreasing Bridge Strikes.

Our ‘ICBridgeTM, is an overheight vehicle warning system, designed to protect bridges and tunnels from vehicle damage. It uses a sensor to track overheight vehicles well before they get to the low bridge. It then sends the message to a sign that can warn the driver, either stopping them or diverting them.

The technology was implemented at the Dartford Crossing on the M25, a road that sees 135,000 vehicles pass through each day. A low tunnel threatened to cause similar problems to the low rail bridges, where collisions could shut down the crossing for hours if not days, and bring the entire network to a standstill. When our technology was first installed, we were having to stop tens of vehicles a day. Now, however, this figure is consistently in single figures.

Ready to take responsibility

As road sign specialists Coeval are ready to step up to the plate and bring our solutions to the rail bridge problem, just as we have to other low bridge problems across the UK. To help protect our vehicles, our railways and people’s lives, responsibility needs to be taken by not only our drivers, but road systems themselves. If our attitudes towards these issues can progress, why can’t our solutions?

Coeval UK have over 30 years of Highways Industry experience, and are equipped to do the necessary work to illuminating standards. Find out what we can do, and how we’ve been solving highway problems around the country by getting in touch.

Gary Higgins, Managing Director, Coeval

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