Network Rail apologises after foul-up brings Ipswich to a standstill

Traffic lights at Wherstead Road bridge caused chaos.

Traffic lights at Wherstead Road bridge caused chaos. - Credit: Archant

Network Rail’s top manager in East Anglia has issued an unreserved apology after engineers working for his company brought Ipswich town centre to a standstill on Thursday evening.

Routine maintenance work was carried out on Wherstead Road bridge between 4.30pm and 6.30pm on Thursday evening – even though NR had been told to avoid those times by Suffolk County Council.

Steve Hooker, Network Rail’s area director for Anglia said: “One of our contractors was carrying out a pre-planned safety inspection of the bridge on our behalf.

“We work with local councils to try and minimise disruption but clearly, on this occasion we got this wrong and I unreservedly apologise to residents and road users. “

“We are urgently reviewing our procedures to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

The work had been booked on April 5. The county council worksheet authorising it says: “Works should not be carried out between 07:30hrs to 09:30hrs and 16:30hrs to 18:30hrs.”

When Network Rail was asked about the work, their initial reaction was to deny it was anything to do with them.

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When we double-checked with the county council and obtained the reference number, NR did accept it was their work – but said the county had instructed them to carry it out during the rush hour.

After checking that with the council, we were sent a copy of the work sheet that clearly states the work should NOT be carried out during the rush hours.

Traffic was brought to a standstill on Thursday evening. Vehicles were taking more than an hour to travel from central Ipswich to the bridge, and it had a knock-on effect across the town centre.

Journeys from Ransomes to the town centre took more than an hour – even though it is nowhere near Wherstead Road.

The chaos angered Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, who said: “It seems Network Rail is rather like Thomas the Tank Engine when it comes to arranging work like this.

“Except this is real life, not a children’s story – although it sometimes feels as if children might be better at organising themselves than Network Rail!”