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Charles-Nockold.png written by Charles Nockold

Warning low bridges ahead

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When you put together a transport plan, how confident are you that the route you’ve created is the safe and legal choice for your delivery operation and your drivers?

For instance, how sure are you that there are no HGV restrictions on the routes you’ve planned? Violation of these restrictions leads to unnecessary mileage in detours, late deliveries and unhappy customers, but it can also get your company into hot water.

Let’s take low bridges. The number of bridge strikes reported at National Rail bridges1 each year is staggering. Incidents reported at bridges carrying the railway over roads (underline) in the year ending 31 March 2014 was 1708. This is an increase of 9.9% compared to the previous year. The number of reported strikes at bridges carrying a road over the railway (overline) remained static at 101 but that’s still an average of more than 8 per month.

Clearly not all of this damage is caused by HGVs, but if a vehicle hits a low railway bridge the transport operator has to bear costs such as vehicle recovery and repairs or replacement, as well as increased insurance premiums. The transport operator may also have to entertain claims for other road users’ vehicle damage as well as personal injury claims.

But the transport operator’s costs don’t end there. According to Network Rail, a vehicle operator whose vehicle crashes into a railway bridge is liable for costs that can include inspections of bridge and road infrastructure, repairs to the damaged bridge, road surface and any road signs, compensation claims and legal fees.

One transport operator involved in two separate incidents disputed the recoverability of train delay costs, but the High Court found in favour of Network Rail. The defendant’s appeal was dismissed and the transport operator had to cough up more than £1.1 million for train delays.

With the power of social media and the propensity for “sharing”, an overturned vehicle wedged under a bridge can quickly attract a lot of interest. So how do you create a plan that ensures you don’t end up as this week’s internet sensation?

Making sure that the driver is familiar with the dimensions of the truck and trailer is obviously important. This month the Department for Transport has proposed a bridge marking system that will include both imperial and metric height, width and length limits. This is aimed at countering the lack of understanding of imperial measurements that has been blamed in incidents of bridges struck by over height vehicles. More detailed data about the route itself can also help avoid lengthy detours for the driver confronted with a warning of “low bridge ahead”, as well as incidents themselves.

Using tools like the Paragon Truck Attribute Data module with your routing and scheduling software allows you to create transport plans that take into consideration the height, weight, width and length attributes of your fleet. The plans you generate will either avoid roads where your vehicles would exceed the restrictions, or it will select vehicles that don’t exceed such restrictions.

Although in the final analysis it’s down to the professionalism of the driver to ensure low or narrow bridges are avoided, it’s a big help to be able to provide route plans that are already compliant.

Naturally there’s a little set-up time required to enter the dimensions of your fleet but that’s a lot easier than explaining to your customer that their delivery is no longer going to arrive today!

If you would like to find out how this, or any of the Paragon planning tools can help you, get in touch to discuss your operation with one of our experienced team. 

1 Bridge strikes – risks, consequences and costs, Keith Ross, National Bridge Strike Champion, National Rail, July 2014, www.networkrail.co.uk/aspx/3563.aspx

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