Needham bridge beams hit six times since March

Needham Market bridge

This beam is six inches lower than the Needham Market bridge. - Credit: Bob Reason

New safety beams installed at "Britain's most bashed bridge" at Needham Market have saved hours of delays on the main line between Ipswich and Norwich and Cambridge since they were installed in March, according to Network Rail.

The beams have been hit six times over the last eight months - but because they are separated from the structure of the bridge that has not been damaged and trains have been able to continue using the line uninterrupted.

Before the barriers were installed, every time the bridge was hit an engineer would have to drive out and inspect the structure which could take some time before any trains could pass over it again.

During 2020/21 it was hit 19 times, making it the most bashed bridge on Network Rail.

A Network Rail spokeswoman said: "The beams are doing exactly what they are supposed to do, protecting the bridge from damage. It is the responsibility of drivers to know how high their vehicles are. They height of the beams quite clearly marked."

The bridge itself is eight feet (2.5 metres) off the ground and the beams are marginally lower - seven foot six inches (2.3 metres) but the Network Rail spokeswoman said that should not make any difference.

Needham Bridge

There are 13 signs, including this one on the beam itself, telling drivers what the clearance is. - Credit: Bob Reason

She said: "Drivers really should have much more than six inches clearance before going under a bridge to take account of road conditions."

Low bridge at Needham Market.

Before the beams were installed there was an eight-foot clearance. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Very few cars are more than seven feet high although there have been several incidents of people towing caravans that have been caught at the bridge - drivers have apparently forgotten about the size of the object they are towing.

The spokeswoman added: "At very low bridges like Needham Market we tend to get incidents with vans and caravans. It's obvious to lorry drivers that they aren't going to get through but some van drivers or those with caravans just don't seem to know the size of their vehicles."

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Beams have been installed at other very low bridges including Manningtree and Ely. At Needham Market Network Rail installed 13 new road signs warning drivers of the new restrictions - but still there have been six incidents, each of which has closed the road and caused significant damage to the vehicles involved.

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