Thousands of main line commuters suffered delays and train cancellations yesterday after a builder's lorry became stuck underneath a bridge beneath the East Coast railway line.
The driver of the flat bed lorry was said to have been "lucky" to escape serious injury as a three-ton concrete and metal support beam he dislodged from the bridge smashed through the windscreen of his cab, narrowly missing him.
The lorry, from South Tyne Building Supplies, South Shields, was delivering concrete building blocks to a house along a private farm track which passes underneath the track at Nags Fold Farm, Plawsworth, between Durham City and Chester-le-Street, when a loading jib on the back struck the beam shortly before 8am.
The impact caused the beam to tumble on to the roof of the cabin.
Mike Harding, of contractors Amco, working for Network Rail who inspected the damaged bridge, said: "The van dislodged the end beam and sent it crashing on to the roof of the cabin. The driver was very lucky."
Although the bridge was not badly damaged there was concern over the safety of trains running overhead on the line. A spokeswoman for Network Rail said services were limited to two GNER trains and one Virgin travelling in each direction per hour while rail engineers assessed the safety of the track.
Northern Rail and Transpennine-Express services were cancelled and passengers bussed between Durham, Chester-le-Street and Newcastle.
The spokeswoman added: "A support beam has come down on to the lorry which hit the bridge.
"We have limited services operating because we can only run on one side of the track over the bridge, on the furthest side away from the damaged part of the bridge. Engineers are on site and we expect to carry out repairs from midnight tonight. There was no structural damage to the track. The beam supported a ballast next to the track."
Farmer Jeffrey Lodge, 73, of Nags Fold Farm, who was one of the first on the scene, said: "I walked to the bridge to investigate after my neighbour rang to say she could not get to work because the road was blocked by the van. The driver was outside. He looked shaken but otherwise uninjured but he was lucky to escape injury."
Mr Lodge, a former Mayor of Durham, added: "I used my tractor to tow the van clear of the bridge after engineers gave me the all clear to do so. The bridge can be deceptive because the height limit is 13ft six inches as you go under but it falls to 11 feet six inches at the other side."