VITAL SAFETY improvements to a rail overbridge in Dorset which would have prevented a fatal crash last weekend were put on hold to avoid summer traffic disruption, Dorset County Council admitted this week.
One man died and his wife was seriously injured when their car slewed off the A351 Corfe Castle to Swanage Road on the approach to Afflington Bridge.
Dorset CC head of highways Mike White said this week that the installation of safety barriers, an improvement identified by a highway audit following the Selby crash in October 2001, had been delayed until next September to avoid the tourist season.
The 117 year old masonry structure crosses the privately owned heritage Swanage Railway and the tragedy was not discovered until the first steam train approached at 10am, seven or eight hours after the accident.
Speeds on the line are limited to 40km/hr, so the driver had no difficulty in stopping short of the wreckage.
White said the bridge was one of 10 in Dorset needing improvement. He added: 'As the bridge actually belongs to the County Council rather than to Railtrack it's much easier logistically, which is why it was high up our priority list.'
However, the £60,000 contract to install safety barriers on the bridge and approaches were disrupted earlier this year by the two month closure of the only other main road into the Purbeck peninsula while the local water company carried out works.
White explained: 'Closing the main A351 into Swanage during the height of the tourist season would have caused too much disruption, so the work was rescheduled for September.'
But Swanage Railway chairman Bill Trite confirmed that the bridge was a known danger spot.
'We have been calling for safety barriers on this bridge since 1999, when a motorcyclist was severely injured after he came off the road, ' he said.
Dorset is to create a new budget to fund improvements at the 10 dangerous bridges. A spokesman expressed sympathy to the families of all those involved in the tragedy.