Bid to give brokeback bridges a break

IT IS the most bashed railway bridge in Britain, hit 18 times in the past year and 68 over the past five years.

Challoch bridge, on the A75 near Stranraer, is clobbered by lorries heading to and from the Northern Ireland ferries so often it has been given its own diversion route by police.

The long-suffering bridge at Dunragit, which will finally win relief from the juggernauts when the village is bypassed, received belated support yesterday when it was highlighted as part of a new campaign against such "bridge strikes".

Transport minister Stewart Stevenson, who launched the initiative, said such crashes cost taxpayers some 500,000 a year. In addition, Network Rail said train disruption cost nearly 200,000 a year.

Part of the blame has been levelled at lorry drivers relying on sat navs designed for cars.

The most regularly hit road bridge in Scotland is Chartershall, which crosses the M9 near Stirling. It was hit 17 times by vehicles joining the motorway at a nearby junction last year, forcing its closure to traffic.

Lorries colliding with the Challoch bridge, on the main route between the Loch Ryan ferry ports and England, regularly cause hours of delays for drivers and rail passengers alike.

Network Rail said vehicles often came off worst in such encounters, but engineers had to make time-consuming checks for damage to the bridge and railway tracks.

Richard Carr, of the Stranraer to Ayr Line Support Association, and a former lorry driver, said: "There is no excuse for these incidents, which could be fatal."

A Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary spokesman said: "We have a diversionary route in place for when the Dunragit bridge is hit, which happens numerous times and causes tailbacks. The road can be closed for several hours."

Errant motorists can be prosecuted for careless driving, and also sued for both bridge damage and delays to trains, as Network Rail has successfully found.

Mr Stevenson launched the "Strike It Out" awareness-raising campaign at the TruckFest show at Ingliston in Edinburgh.

He said: "Bridge strikes impact heavily on road users, both in terms of delays whilst an incident is being dealt with and later as repairs are carried out, often at substantial cost.

"We are working with a number of industries, including road and freight hauliers, farming, ferries and ports to help communicate the message to drivers of high vehicles to check and plan their route before setting out and carefully consider bridge signs on approach."

The Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency, which is behind the 21,000 campaign, said the standard height for a bridge was 16ft 6in (about five metres), but the majority of strikes happened on road bridges on major routes which were above this height. There are 20 lower road and rail bridges on Scottish trunk roads.

The agency said at least ten such road bridges were hit across Scotland every year.

Chris MacRae of the Freight Transport Association, said: "A main cause of bridge strikes has been an over reliance from some drivers on their sat-navs, which is why the association worked closely with industry to produce a lorry-friendly unit. It is hoped that this will help end those all-too-familiar stories of lorry drivers coming unstuck after using sat-nav designed for cars."

Phil Flanders, director of the Road Haulage Association Scotland said: "Whilst the number of bridge strikes compared to journeys made is very small they can have a very serious knock-on effect and the association fully supports the campaign to increase awareness."

A Network Rail spokesman said: "Bridge strikes cause regular unnecessary delays and we welcome any initiative which raises driver awareness."