Fury at blackspot rail bridge

THE chairman of a parish council has accused highways chiefs of putting money before lives after a lorry crash on a railway bridge.

THE chairman of a parish council has accused highways chiefs of putting money before lives after a lorry crash on a railway bridge used by hundreds of Essex motorists every day.

The crash on Friday was the third on the A137 in less than 12 months after two accidents on the same road also at a bridge in Lawford.

Jim King, chairman of Brantham Parish Council, said the parish clerk was contacted by Suffolk highways department requesting a meeting to explain safety signs proposed for the approaches to the bridge on the A137 over the Norwich to London rail line.

He said: "She got a message saying it would cost £25,000 to have a fibre optic cable moved.

"They don't want to put a barrier up because it would cost them money. What price a life?"

But Peter Turner, the assistant director of environment and transport, denied the issue was about money.

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He said putting up barriers would block off the access to properties close to the bridge – something both Mr King and a resident living next to the bridge's southern end disagree with.

Currently there is a flimsy chain link fence plugging the gap between the end of the bridge where trucker Hamid Zandi, 51, had a lucky escape after his tractor unit skidded on the wet road last Friday , narrowly avoiding plunging down onto the track below.

Carl Hammond, 31, who lives next to the crash site, said he could not see how replacing chain link fencing with something stronger would affect access to his home.

He said: "It needs something concrete or metal at least to be on the safe side. I would like to see something done. It's not safe enough and it wouldn't affect our access."

Mr King said Brantham Parish Council wrote to Suffolk County Council after the Selby rail disaster in February 2001 warning that both ends of the bridge on the A137 over the Norwich to London, Liverpool Street, line were dangerously unprotected and there was the potential for a similar accident.

They received no reply and wrote again after two accidents last year on a bridge on the A137 at Lawford.

He said six weeks ago the parish council received a letter containing a map and diagrams explaining a series of warning signs the county proposed to install on the approaches at both ends of the bridge.

Then came the phone call to the clerk asking if an officer could attend a meeting to explain the proposals.

Mr Turner said: "We have assessed the rail bridges where we think there might be problems. Brantham is the one we have most concern about. I have spoken to the engineer concerned and he's concerned that any barrier is going to block up a domestic access.

"What we are promoting is a traffic management scheme with highly conspicuous signing. At the moment we are waiting for the Department of Transport to approve the scheme because it is non-standard signing. I think the reason is physical rather than financial.

"We have said we will attend a meeting of the parish council to explain and that will give the parish council the opportunity to comment."

He apologised that Brantham had not had a response to its first letter.

A spokeswoman for ntl, which laid the fibre optic cable said the highways department would be responsible for all maintenance and alterations but the company would be happy to work with the council to relocate any cable if it proved necessary.

She said ntl would not want to be seen as an obstacle to any safety improvements that might be considered necessary.