BUS operator Stagecoach, which runs routes across the North-East, is investing in technology to prevent its buses from hitting bridges. 

Stagecoach has announced that it will become the first bus operator in the country to invest in the national roll-out of new bridge technology across its fleet - stopping buses colliding with low bridges. 

The firm operates services in Newcastle, South Shields, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Teesside.

The £4 million project will see the GreenRoad system is installed on all of the company's 8,000 buses in England, Scotland and Wales. 

There was a particular concern for Stagecoach's 3,800 double-decker buses, which may be faced with low bridges on journeys.

When a bus hits a bridge, it can also cause hours of delays for rail passengers and road users, according to Network Rail chiefs. 

Using traffic-light-like LEDs on the dashboard, the system gives drivers instant feedback on their manoeuvres, encouraging smoother, safer and fuel-efficient driving that is more comfortable for passengers.

It also uses location data and mapping to alert drivers to nearby low bridges. If the technology determines that the bus is heading towards a low bridge, it will sound an in-cab alert, allowing a safe exit route that avoids the bridge.

Data from Network Rail shows that there were 1,714 railway bridge strikes across the country in the 2019-20 financial year. Most of these incidents involve heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), with between 40 and 50 a year related to buses.

As well as the potential for serious injuries, bridge strikes have significant financial and other costs for the country. On average, a single bridge strike costs more than £6,000 and in 2019-20 these incidents resulted in more than 7,800 hours of delays for rail passengers alone.

Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “Everything we do starts with safety. For our customers, our people, pedestrians and other road users. Buses are already one of the safest forms of travel but every year we invest millions of pounds in training our professional driving team and new technology to make our public transport operations even safer.

“Our country’s infrastructure includes many railway bridges designed in an era before modern transport vehicles went on the road, creating a safety risk.

"We have been working for many months with GreenRoad to design this important Low Bridge Alert enhancement to their proven safety technology, and are now implementing it to bolster the extensive measures we already have in place. We look forward to delivering the benefits from our investment across the country.”

The industry-leading initiative has been welcomed by Network Rail, which works with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), highways bodies, and road transport providers to help prevent bridge strikes.

Network Rail’s chair Peter Hendy said: “Bridge strikes are an unnecessary burden on our railway.

"They pose serious safety risks, cause hours of delays for rail passengers and road users and swallow up public funds which should be used on upgrading and improving our network.

“We’ve seen encouraging signs of incidents declining recently thanks to our engagement work with industry partners, drivers and operators, as well as the introduction of technology which assists drivers, but the transport sector has to continue working together to make bridge strikes a thing of the past.

“I commend Stagecoach on taking the initiative with the roll-out of this technology and I hope to see other operators take a similar proactive approach to tackling the issue in the near future.”