Furious residents near a railway bridge that is one of the most smashed into structures in Britain want big lorries banned after it suffered its 102nd hit since 2000.
The latest articulated lorry to end up on its side is the fifth at the spot in the past 11 months – although height warning signs and flashing lights have slightly improved on the figure of 12 smashes four years ago.
After the lorry ploughed into the bridge on the A325 near Wrecclesham close to Farnham, Surrey, the road was closed again while the huge vehicle was righted.
Only minutes earlier, children had been walking to their nearby school along the pavement where the lorry toppled.
The bridge on the A325 near Wrecclesham has been hit by lorry drivers 102 times since 2000. The latest lorry to topple went down minute after children had been walking to school along the pavement
Villagers in Wrecclesham have been campaigning for more than 60 years for a by-pass, and parents who fear a child could one day be killed have previously written to the area’s MP, former Cabinet Minister Jeremy Hunt, asking for better safety on the stretch of road.
Lorry drivers ignoring warnings has become a huge nationwide headache for Network Rail with latest figures for the 2020-21 year showing more than 1,600 bridges were hit across the rail network — and in the last five financial years there have been a staggering 9,178 strikes.
They have cost Network Rail more than £5.5million in delay and cancellation fees for passengers as services have been disrupted – and millions more were spent on repairs which are often handed on to hauliers’ insurers.
Police asked the lorry driver how they did not see the height limit sign further up the road, said resident Gerard Greaves
The most struck bridge in Britain in 2020-21 was at Coddenham Road, in Needham Market, Suffolk — hit 19 times — but Network Rail spokesman Chris Denham said the Wrecclesham one ‘has traditionally been one of our most struck bridges’.
Resident Gerard Greaves said: ‘We’ve nicknamed it the Bridge of Sighs. But maybe it should be Bridge of Highs due to the number of dopey drivers of high-sided vehicles who ignore the height sign.’
Mr Denham added: ‘We have tried to find a way of building a turning circle for lorries that see the over-height signs and need to turn round, so they don’t have to reverse, but as yet we’ve not been able to do that.’
Mr Greaves, 59, added: ‘I’ve only lived here five years and I’ve come by and seen at least 20 to 30 lorries that have smashed into it. It happens all the time.
‘The artics are always keeling over on their side. We get so many of these big vehicles using that road because it’s a cut through between the A3 and M3, but they don’t seem to take any notice of the sign — or don’t know the height of their vehicles.
‘Even if the drivers do notice the height sign when they go past, the road often has to be closed and there’s chaos as they can’t reverse and cars back up and the police have to be called,’ said resident Mr Greaves
A three-inch thick metal girder has been placed a few inches before each entrance to take the first impact and protect the bridge from each hit
Network Rail has pleaded with lorry drivers to end the ‘entirely avoidable stupidity’ of bridge crashes. Above, the latest crash on the A325
‘So their hope for short cut ends up as a very time consuming and expensive mistake.
‘When I was there the police who attended were saying to the lorry driver how could you have not seen the sign saying the height limit.
‘A few minutes before that there would have been children going under that so it’s lucky none of them were hit.’
Mr Greaves said that a three-inch thick metal girder has been placed a few inches before each entrance to take the first impact and protect the bridge.
‘It does mean the lorries take the brunt of the impact before the bridge itself and is why a lot of them jackknife and topple over and some have had their roof ripped off,’ he said.
‘Even if the drivers do notice the height sign when they go past, the road often has to be closed and there’s chaos as they can’t reverse and cars back up and the police have to be called. That’s also happened again this week. The sat navs bring them here.’
Accidents at the A325 blackspot have caused injuries to drivers and disruption for road and rail users, and taken up fire crews’ time trying to right overturned vehicles.
Network Rail has pleaded with lorry drivers to end the ‘entirely avoidable stupidity’ of bridge crashes.
Flashing lights warn drivers on the A325 if their lorry is over the Wrecclesham bridge’s 4m 20cm height
Drivers now hitting the Wrecclesham bridge are warned before reaching it by flashing lights that their vehicle is over the wrought iron bridge’s height of 4m 20cm.
Mr Denham said: ‘We seek to find evidence of negligence and recover costs.
‘Last weekend a bridge on the A24 Horsham bypass was hit for the second time recently and the repair bill has been £750,000. The road and the rail line had to be closed.
‘All lorries must have their height in metres and feet on a plate in their cab, with the ability to adjust it according to the height of their loads.
The Horsham bridge in West Sussex had to be jacked up to take the weight off damaged girders before putting new bolts in place
‘When a bridge is struck, one of the things we do is check the plate height and then the bridge height warning signs and note them for insurance claims.’
Mr Denham said that drivers often forget the extra height of the load they are carrying, adding that although in a recent hit in Bromley, south east London, the vehicle unloaded was below the bridge maximum height, the driver had left the arm of the excavator on the back up.
Despite the protective girder beam taking the initial impact the whole of the bridge parapet was ripped off.
The Horsham bridge in West Sussex had to be entirely jacked up to take the weight off damaged girders before putting new bolts in place.
Sir Peter Hendy, chair of Network Rail said: ‘Bridge strikes cause unnecessary delays, costs, and safety issues for road and rail users.
‘To compound matters, they drain public funds which should be used on upgrading and improving our network.
‘In recent years we’ve done a lot of work with partners across the industry to tackle the problem and while it’s encouraging to see numbers on the decline, there’s a lot more work to be done.
‘We urge professional operators and drivers to properly plan their routes, know the height of their vehicles and look out for road signs warning of oncoming bridges.
‘Those who don’t are at risk of losing their driver’s and operator’s licences, and Network Rail looks to recover the entire repair and delay costs from the driver’s employer.’