In the past five-and-a-half years 2,000 railway bridges have been
’bashed’ nearly 5,000 times by errant drivers. The cost of bridge
repairs exceeds pounds 5 million per year, together with the huge
additional cost of trains’ punctuality. Railtrack launched a PR campaign
to alleviate these problems and curb the dangers.
To reduce the number of accidents by getting drivers to check the height
of the bridges on their route before starting out on their journey.
Research was carried out to identify the size of the problem and look at
a way to mitigate bridge strikes. Railtrack director Martin Reynolds
said that the principal cause of strikes was ’ignorance of vehicle
heights and equipment left raised’. The audience ranged from commercial
drivers and hire companies to horse box owners.
Railtrack’s in-house PR team dramatically captured attention by
deliberately driving a double decker bus into Whitehouse Road Bridge in
Swindon, the most frequently ’bashed’ bridge in the country.
The event was planned with the help of the council, police force, fire
services and used a soon-to-be scrapped bus. The in-house PR team
contacted national and regional planning desks and ensured that the
story was on the diary for the following week. To improve the chances of
TV coverage, background footage was delivered to television companies
the night before the event.
Railtrack PR offices around the country held local events at transport
cafes, service stations and ports, which were covered locally by the
print and broadcast media.
This was supported by the production of thousands of leaflets, posters
and conversion stickers for drivers with the slogan ’size does
At the same time a national 24-hour telephone hotline was set up to
encourage people to report bridge strikes and allow them to check any
diversions or general route information.
The campaign struck a nerve within the media with extensive coverage at
all levels. The Swindon launch was featured on the ITN lunch time, early
evening and ten o’clock news. The Express and the Mail both gave a full
page to the story and the Independent gave it a half-page photo
The story was covered by radio stations throughout the country, with
national coverage by Radio Five Live.
Requests have come in, largely from lorry drivers and hire companies
alike, for more posters, leaflets and stickers to be circulated. Of the
74 calls made to the hotline, 55 were requests for material. Fourteen
calls have also been received making suggestions on route planning and
requests for diversions.
The strength of the campaign was in its novelty, as Tamsin Davies from
the Swindon Messenger says: ’The stunt was designed to stick in drivers’
minds’, rather than making a long term impression on the media.
Railtrack’s Nicky Louth-Davies says that she is pleased with the
response but figures for the amount of bridges hit by drivers since the
campaign have not yet been released. Although with the latest Department
of Transport’s (1994) figures estimating the number of vehicles of over
28 tonnes on the road at 91,000 vehicles, the response to date shows
there is still potential for an even more hard-hitting educational
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Launch of a national anti-bridge bash campaign
Timescale: October 1996-1997
Budget: pounds 40,000