FENLAND: Special report looks at safety on waterside roads

PUBLISHED: 12:50 15 January 2009 | UPDATED: 08:50 02 June 2010

forty foot drain near puddock bridge
alan melton
joy weschke

forty foot drain near puddock bridge alan melton joy weschke

SAFETY on waterside roads in Fenland is rarely out of the headlines. To some the only way to cut the number of deaths is the installation of barriers along the most notorious stretches of waterside road, but others argue there are more appropriate solutio

SAFETY on waterside roads in Fenland is rarely out of the headlines.

To some the only way to cut the number of deaths is the installation of barriers along the most notorious stretches of waterside road, but others argue there are more appropriate solutions including average speed cameras.

Cambridgeshire County Council has announced it is seeking funding for a major probe into safety along waterside roads, but Mark Kemp, the council's Director of Highways and Access has produced a summary report for councillors and the public, on the history of casualties, past measures to reduce casualties and planned measures.

BLANKET use of safety barriers is not the best solution to reducing casualties on Fen drain roads with costs far outweighing the benefits.

That is a conclusion reached in the new detailed summary by Mr Kemp. With driver behaviour being one of the main factors in many accidents, he says a combination of engineering, enforcement and education should help drivers make "appropriate choices about how to drive along these roads".

Installing barriers, says Mr Kemp, would cost £250-£500 per metre depending on ground conditions - £2-4 million for the Forty Foot Bank alone. Costs could reach £18-37million countywide far exceeding the entire road safety engineering budget which is around £1.2million for the whole county.

Concentrating his report on Fenland's deep drains - the Sixteen Foot, the Forty Foot and North Bank - Mr Kemp said in the past 10 years accidents on drain roads had accounted for a very small percentage of the total, and the number of casualties resulting from submersion in water was even smaller.

He said: "Driver behaviour including excess or inappropriate speeds, poor overtaking and drink driving has featured in many of the incidents particularly those where vehicles have entered the water".

While Mr Kemp admits safety barriers along the drain roads would reduce the number of vehicles that lose control entering the water, he says that benefit must be balanced against the disadvantages.

Barriers might stop vehicles going into the water, but there would still be injuries from striking other vehicles, poles, posts, and even the barrier itself. Safety barriers would not be able to stop all vehicles in every situation - large lorries, tractors, 4x4s, vehicles that have become airborne, vehicles hitting the barrier at certain angles may still go through the barrier, or over the barrier when impact speeds are high.

The report said: "Barrier separates the driver visually from the hazard of water, providing an extra sense of security, and from the observation at other sites drivers tend to travel faster on roads that have barrier installed even when there is no obvious hazard.

"It is highly likely that speeds, overtaking and the potential for loss of control would actually increase if barrier were used on long lengths of carriageway."

Mr Kemp says that research conducted in the Netherlands, which has numerous open waterways, states that such roads do not need to have crash barriers and further states they can only be placed in exceptional cases.

Measures already taken in Fenland to reduce waterside road accidents have included solid edge markings and verge marker posts to make the road alignment clearly visible, installation of barriers at some key locations, warning signs to highlight the hazards, reduced speed limits, police officer enforcement on a regular basis, and mobile speed cameras.

The installation of an average speed camera system is proposed for the 40ft Bank where there is a history of vehicles losing control and entering the water. It will cover 4.5 miles and will serve to bringing down the highest speeds, reduce differential speeds and the intimidation felt by drivers who travel at an appropriate speed. Work is due to start soon with total costs including the piling around £300,000.

Current works on the Sixteen Foot include refreshing existing white lining and signage, replacing marker posts, installing road studs and carriage repairs at a cost of £30,000.

Mr Kemp says: "As technology improves it is likely that the cost of installing average speed cameras will reduce and this may enable the authority to consider further installations on routes with lower accident records than the Forty Foot Road."

The council's Road Safety Team is also working hard to reduce accidents with campaigns to raise awareness of the potential dangers of driving near water.




1998: 011516

1999: 111921

2000: 032326








2008* 21811

*The 2008 figures are provisional for the period 01/01/2008 to 30/06/2008














*The 2008 figures are provisional for the period 01/01/2008 - 30/06/2008

FENLAND road safety campaigner Graham Chappell who wants to see barriers installed along key waterside roads has claimed the report is "highly selective and biased in favour of the council's established anti-barrier posture".

He says his initial thoughts on the report are the efforts to downplay the significance of the number of accidents and fatalities on river roads, compared to the figures for the county as a whole; the inflated projected costs of barrier installation, and manipulation of information to suit regarding the Dutch advice on barrier use.

Mr Chappell said: "It looks like Mr Kemp has made a substantial and decent effort in putting this document together, but its veneer of quality is demonstrably thin in several places."

He added: "Will they acknowledge that failure to install barriers will inevitably lead to further deaths, ad infinitum, that are clearly preventable, given enough investment, which need not primarily come from the council's own budget?

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