STORIES about Swindon bridges being bashed by tall vehicles are a Swindon Advertiser hardy perennial.

Of the hundreds we’ve run, though, one from October of 1996 is unique.

It involved a collision which was carefully planned, viewed by hundreds of cheering spectators and awaited by massed ranks of news photographers.

The occasion was the revelation that Swindon’s Whitehouse Road railway bridge was the most bashed in Britain, with 82 strikes since January of 1990.

In the bashed bridge stakes, we left our competitors in the dust. Our nearest rival, a bridge over a road in Ely, Cambridgeshire, managed only a paltry 61 impacts over the same period.

To mark the dubious honour and give drivers of tall vehicles a graphic warning, track operator Network Rail arranged a stunt involving a double-decker bus salvaged from a scrapyard.

At the wheel was a stuntman called John Carr, whose mission was to hit the Swindon bridge at about 25mph.

We said: “At 11.40am crowds of spectators were treated to the spectacular sight of the bus accelerating on its 100-yard run up and then smashing into the 10ft high bridge.

“Seconds later Mr Carr, who is insured for £2m, emerged unscathed from the remains of the vehicle to an enthusiastic round of applause.”

National and local journalists were on hand, and Mr Carr told a reporter from The Independent: “As the glass shattered, it was so beautiful, it looked like a rainbow.”

A Railtrack engineer pronounced the Swindon Bridge unharmed by the demonstration, although a spokesman said the organisation paid £5m a year to repair bridges damaged by such collisions.

The spokesman added: “This stunt is designed to stick in people’s minds. Every time a high vehicle hits a railway bridge, we have to close the line for safety reasons.

“That means rail passengers suffer, not to mention the severe traffic congestion caused.”

Also at the scene was Sgt David Hunt of British Transport Police, who said: “There is no excuse when warning signs are clearly visible, and ignoring them could put lives at risk.”

Sadly the exercise, though well-intentioned and imaginative, proved futile.