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Railtrack's bridges ill-prepared for weight hike

THOUSANDS OF Railtrack- owned road bridges will remain unchecked when vehicle weight restrictions in Britain are raised to 40t next year, it emerged this week.

Railtrack owns 6,000 road bridges of a total 44,000 in need of assessment, in England alone. But County Surveyors Society Bridge Group chairman David Lynn said this week: 'Railtrack assessment work is certainly a couple of years behind.'

European legislation demands that British roads be able to carry 40t vehicles by 1 January 1999. Lynn said that most local authorities in England will by then have carried out assessment of their own bridges. But he claimed that on many Railtrack-owned road bridges necessary strengthening had not been carried out because of a dispute over who will pay.

'Detailed negotiations are still ongoing over who will pay for strengthening the Railtrack bridges. We expect the talks to be completed by next year,' he said.

A spokeswoman for Railtrack confirmed that assessments would not be completed until March 2001, but denied that the company was two years behind programme.

'A date for completion of assessments was never given by us or anyone else and the pace at which we are working has been accepted by the government,' she said. 'We expect to approve a model agreement with the CSS in the next few weeks. This will be a template upon which individual agreements with the county councils will be made,' she added.

The start of Railtrack's assessment programme was delayed until spring 1996 by a similar financial dispute which lasted two years (NCE 4 January 1996). Under a legal loophole dating back to 1974, Railtrack claimed that it was only responsible for ensuring a safe carrying capacity of 24.4t for its road bridges.

That wrangle was resolved when the government ruled that Railtrack bridges were eligible for transport and policy programme funding and could be assessed by council engineers without competitive tendering.

Matthew Jones

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