A NEAR disaster on the East Coast Main Line overbridge named by NCE last week as one of the most dangerous on the ECML has highlighted the need for urgent action on unsafe overbridges from local authorities.
Two cars collided on Rock Bridge on the B1340 BamburghAlnwick road in Northumberland last Tuesday afternoon, after the driver of a Suzuki Swift apparently suffered a stroke.
The Swift slammed into the bridge parapet and bounced back into the path of a Vauxhall Astra that had approached over the blind crest from the opposite direction. No one was seriously hurt, and the stroke victim is recovering in hospital.
Rock Bridge had been identified by a local rail engineer as potentially the most dangerous overbridge in the area due to its blind crest, junctions at both ends and lack of safety barriers.
Only a wooden post and rail fence stands between road traffic and the high speed ECML below. Here the rails are on a tight curve, with maximum superelevation, and any derailment would be catastrophic.
Had the driver of the car been taken ill seconds earlier, the Swift could have plunged onto the ECML at a point where a high speed train driver would have had only 10 seconds warning of disaster. Luckily, the parapets on Rock Bridge had been reinforced with concrete when the ECML was electrified, and little damage was done to the structure.
A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said that a desk study had identified Rock Bridge as a priority, but that foot and mouth restrictions had prevented detailed on site inspection.
Last week NCE also revealed the confusion that exists among local authorities over how they should react to the Selby rail disaster. This occurred in February when a Land Rover plunged onto the ECML, colliding with a passenger train and killing 10 people.
There is still no definitive advice from the government, said municipal engineers this week.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport Local Government and the Regions said: 'We won't be saying a lot until the legal action against the motorist involved in the Selby crash is complete.
'However, it is quite clear that responsibility for providing safety barriers at rail crossings rests with the local authorities, who have to investigate accidents and take appropriate action.'
A Highways Agency working group is considering standards for roadside barriers on motorways and trunk roads, and is also expected to provide guidance for local authorities.
Anecdotal evidence passed to NCE suggests that the incidence of vehicles leaving roads at bridges and crashing down close to or onto rail lines is significantly higher than is normally assumed. If you know of any such incidences in the last 10 years email dave. parker@construct. emap. com