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Passengers stranded after bridge failure

PUBLISHED: 12:50 08 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:20 03 July 2010

THE skipper of a pleasure boat last night blasted Network Rail after 50 passengers on a return cruise from Yarmouth to Cantley were stranded when the swing bridge over the River Yare at Reedham jammed shut.

THE skipper of a pleasure boat last night blasted Network Rail after 50 passengers on a return cruise from Yarmouth to Cantley were stranded when the swing bridge over the River Yare at Reedham jammed shut.

The skipper of the Southern Belle, Steve 'Tug' Wilson, 53, had no choice but to eventually ring the driver of the party's coach, waiting on the Yarmouth quayside, and tell him to fetch them from Cantley instead.

Meanwhile, the Southern Belle was stranded upriver of the rail bridge for 24 hours until late on Sunday when Network Rail engineers were able to fix the problem.

Mr Wilson, who spent £150,000 restoring the Southern Belle to revive the tradition of Yarmouth river trips three years ago, said: “I had to cancel a second trip on Saturday and two on Sunday but, more seriously, incidents like this are stopping us building up the business because we find ourselves letting down coach firms through no fault of our own.”

He said his trips to Oulton Broad last season were blighted by problems with the rail swing bridges at Somerleyton and Oulton Broad and a cruise to Norwich in May had to be cancelled because of ongoing problems with the swing bridge at Trowse.

Mr Wilson said: “Something has got to be done. As it is, at the moment we always have to have a mobile number for a party's coach driver in case of problems.”

He said the issue at Reedham bridge had prevented him pursuing his plans for a ferry service from Yarmouth to Reedham via Burgh Castle and Berney Arms.

Russell Spink, a spokesman for Network Rail, said the signaller operating Reedham swing bridge had reported difficulties opening the bridge for river traffic at about 4pm on Saturday. He said: “Network Rail's primary concern is the safe and efficient running of the railway so the decision was taken to keep the bridge closed while engineers were despatched to examine the fault. A temporary fix was put in place to enable a limited number of openings of the bridge for river traffic on Sunday before Network Rail engineers completed a full repair on Monday morning.”

He said the Norfolk swing bridges were complex, ageing and rare structures which had suffered from decades of neglect and under-investment.

Network Rail would now be putting this right, investing about £4.5m to improve their reliability and lifespan over the next few years.

He said: “Some improvement work has already been completed at Oulton Broad, with full repairs and refits of all mechanics, electrics and structures at Somerleyton and Reedham to follow over the next two years.”

Angie Leeper, waterways strategy officer for the Broads Authority, said: “The Broads Authority and Network Rail are now working very closely together to try to solve the problems associated with the four swing bridges in the Broads. Network Rail are now more aware of the impact that closing the bridges has on river users and they seem to be doing all they can to improve the situation.”

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