Concerns over safety at five rail bridges in Blue Mountains

The bridge over the railway line at Wilson Way in Blaxland is dangerous and should have been fixed more than a year ago, according to a report prepared for council.

And retired bridge structural engineer, Dr Eric Ancich, said the bridge is an accident waiting to happen.

The bridge has a load capacity of 13 tonnes but is regularly used by much heavier vehicles, including school buses and trucks going to Blaxland tip.

Dr Ancich, a 20-year veteran of the bridge division of the RTA, said some of these vehicles were likely to weigh more than 13 tonnes.

“Think of the carnage at Granville [in 1977 when the Bold Street bridge collapsed onto a train]. Imagine the same situation – you’ve got a bus full of school kids and the bridge fails. What happens if it falls just in front of a coal train? It would be absolute carnage,” he said.

“If we were at the RTA and we got a report like this we would act the next day. There would have been a working group there the next day erecting load limit signs.”

The report was commissioned by council to look specifically at five bridges which had been identified as having potential safety concerns.

The five were Wilson Way, Green Parade in Valley Heights, Station Street in Wentworth Falls, Station Street in Blackheath and Park Road in Woodford (which has subsequently been upgraded by Sydney Trains).

The bridges are owned by Sydney Trains but council is responsible for the road surface, markings, walkways, signage etc.

The bridges were all inspected by a civil designer and a bridge specialist who concluded that Wilson Way, in particular, had a number of “very high” risks which could have “catastrophic” consequences.

Inadequate barriers and very tight turns meant it was “likely” an out-of-control vehicle could crash through on to the tracks below.

Such issues should have been addressed within six months, the report dated June 2016 recommended.  

Other deficiences at Wilson Way were bad sight lines and narrow lanes which meant large vehicles often crossed the double centre line.

Problems also included narrow pedestrian paths, paths leading on to roads, no proper separation between pedestrians and cars and a lack of anti-throw screens.

A Sydney Trains spokesman said: “Discussions were held with Blue Mountains City Council regarding the report. They were informed the bridges met Asset Standards Authority safety standards.”

A council spokeswoman said the “relevant issues” identified in the report had been incorporated into council's transport risk register.

“Council has brought this report to the attention of Sydney Trains and requested collaboration with Sydney Trains as to the level as to responsibilities, and options for mitigation/management/treatment and the way forward.”

She said there was bridge renewal funding in council’s 2018-19 asset works program and some of it was likely to be used to address issues identified in the report.

A range of options were suggested to fix the problems, including low-cost solutions of improving signage, installing better barriers, reapplying road markings and clearing foliage to increase visibility.

Medium-cost options involved widening footpaths and making some bridges one way controlled by traffic lights.

At the other end of the scale, the report called for demolition, realignment of approaches and rebuilding of the bridges.

Dr Ancich, of Blackheath, fought to get the report under freedom of information laws. He was initially rejected. His appeal was upheld and a new determination ordered, but council again refused to release the report.

Dr Ancich and council were scheduled to go to mediation earlier this month but two days before the hearing date council agreed to hand over the report.