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Rail engineer exposes ECML road bridges safety threat


DETAILS OF 13 potentially dangerous rail overbridges on the East Coast Main Line were this week sent to NCE amid fears of a similar disaster to February's Selby rail crash.

Jarvis Rail operations manager Trevor Watson sent NCE a portfolio of East Coast Main Line (ECML) overbridges in Northumberland identified as being in urgent need of improved safety barriers.

His fears are expressed three and half months after 10 passengers died when a Land Rover and trailer left the M62 and plunged onto the ECML in front of a high speed train.

The most dangerous bridge identified by Watson is Rock Bridge on the B1340, a busy tourist route from the A1 to the Northumberland coast.

'This is a blind summit on a fast stretch of road with minor junctions on both sides, ' Watson explained this week. 'It crosses the ECML at a point where the track is on a tight curve. Part of my job involves regular trips in the driver's cab, and I can tell you that a driver of a south bound high speed train would have only 10 seconds to react to a vehicle on the tracks at this location.'

Like most of the crossings on Watson's list, the approaches to Rock Bridge are bounded only by a wooden post and rail fence.

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said this week that the local authority was 'undertaking a review of all overbridges' and that it would not be 'appropriate' to comment until this review was complete.

While engineers demand action, NCE has learned that safety inspections on rail overbridges on local roads in the wake of the Selby disaster are being hampered by a lack of central guidance.

Following Selby an appeal by NCE for readers to identify other potential dangerous sites produced numerous examples and much comment by other engineers.

There has still been no coordinated programme of inspections on the hundreds of minor crossings over high speed rail lines. Few have any modern safety barriers at all, and many experts believe that they represent a more serious safety risk than motorway and highway crossings.

Local authorities contacted by NCE were reluctant to comment on overbridge inspections.

A spokesman for Kent County Council said there had been 'a preliminary look at our overbridges, but nothing exhaustive.' Like most, Kent was waiting for recommendations from the government.

A working group has been set up by the Highways Agency to review standards for nearside safety barriers on motorways and trunk roads in the light of the Selby disaster, but this only held its first meeting last week and is not due to report until the autumn. There are local authority representatives on the group, and the County Surveyors Society Bridge Group is also considering the problem, but there is no information on when any recommendations will be available.

And with the final Health & Safety Executive report on the Selby disaster delayed indefinitely by legal action against the Land Rover driver involved, local authority road engineers are left in limbo. But at least one county has already installed new safety barriers on high risk crossings after a series of inspections and risk assessments highlighted five crossings of the East Coast Main Line in Durham as potentially dangerous.

Durham County Council director of environment and technical services Chris Tunstall said: 'We carried out a preliminary survey immediately after Selby and identified one crossing on an unclassified road as a major hazard.

'This is almost certainly the responsibility of Railtrack, but Railtrack didn't seem to be interested. So rather than argue for months we did the work ourselves, which cost £20,000.'

A further detailed survey of the 35 overbridges in Durham - 15 over the ECML - revealed four more judged to be dangerous, three of which Durham believed were Railtrack's responsibility. But with the whole question of who is actually responsible for the approaches to overbridges still very controversial, Tunstall said it was better to get the work done as safety takes priority.

www. durham. gov. uk If you know of any other dangerous overbridges email dave. parker@construct. emap.


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