Crowd of people on experimental footbridge over rail tracks in England

Low-carbon high-tech bridge crosses the tracks

Crowd of people on experimental FLOW footbridge over rail tracks in EnglandImage Network Rail media centre

An innovative ‘first-of-its-kind’ railway footbridge has opened to the public in a rural part of England. The light-weight and low-maintenance structure replaces a dangerous level crossing. Engineers and residents have both welcomed the ground breaking structure, which doesn’t actually break any ground.

A Shropshire village in the west of England, has had a major safety boost with the installation of a Network Rail designed eye-catching ‘FLOW’ bridge – a low carbon, lightweight and affordable safety solution. Designed and funded by Network Rail’s Research and Development team, alongside industry specialists, the bridge aims to provide a faster, more sustainable, and affordable option to assist with the closure of dangerous railway foot crossings around the UK.

Replaces high-risk level crossing

The first location to benefit from the prototype bridge is a rural crossing, just north of Craven Arms, in the Shropshire hills. The location is a popular stop for rambles and hill walkers. The footbridge officially opened to the public at a community event last Friday, 27 January. The footbridge replaces an extremely high-risk level crossing that closed a number of years ago after it was deemed unsafe for use.

The original foot level crossing was closed due to the position of a passing loop. At this location the sight lines prevented pedestrians from having clear visibility of oncoming trains. There is a policy of reducing level crossings in the UK where possible, for safety reasons. That also means new level crossings are avoided. Projects like the Borders Railway in Scotland required several historic ‘at-grade’ crossings to be replaced by new bridges.

Striking and modular design

The new bridge at Craven Arms was positions at considerably less expense than previous installations. As Network Rail explains, FLOW stands for “Fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP), Lower cost, Optimised design, Working bridge”. The full explanation of that tortured acronym takes longer to recite than the bridge takes to cross. “The name also underpins its striking and modular design”, say Network Rail.

The 21-metre long bridge costs around forty per cent less than traditional steel structures. No concrete is used in the foundations, reducing its carbon footprint. It weighs half that of a traditional steel bridge, meaning lower transportation and installation costs. “With the majority of construction taking place off site, installation is able to take place without disruption to services”, claim the Network Rail engineers.

The bridge is equipped with a real-time monitoring system, which records how it performs, allowing future improvements to the design and more efficient maintenance, as well as tracking its use. ““The flow bridge was designed, first and foremost, as a safety solution”, says Andy Cross, the programme manager. “Our teams have also gone above and beyond to create a quicker and more sustainable option for the future of the railway.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for and

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