Questions have been raised over the Foyle Bridge warning system after a witness told how a double-decker bus almost toppled across the carriageway during high winds on St. Patrick’s Day.
Victor Christie, from Drumahoe, said the driver of the Ulsterbus “deserved a medal” for managing to keep his bus under control and prevent it toppling onto cars on the opposite carriageway.
Mr. Christie, who later spoke to the driver, said that the Limavady-bound bus was “virtually on two wheels” due to gusts sweeping in from the east on Saturday afternoon.
Mr. Christie had been in Buncrana and was driving over the bridge to watch the Ireland vs England match at the rugby club when the incident occurred.
He said that what he witnessed had brought back memories of a tragic event in 2005 when a lorry driver lost his life after his vehicle toppled over the same bridge.
The Department for Infrastructure meanwhile said the automatic warning system on the bridge kicks in at 30 mph but the highest gust recorded on Saturday afternoon was 28 mph.
Mr Christie said: “I happened to notice the top of a double-decker bus approximately 50m in front of me swaying from side to side as the bus was halfway up the gradient.
“I realised the driver must be having problems with the very windy conditions. The bus was in the inside lane but was having to veer over to the outside lane to stop it toppling over.
“Then it would veer back to the inside lane as that particular gust of wind had passed - only to repeat the manoeuvre again when the bus was hit with the next gust.
“On a couple of occasions the bus was virtually on two wheels, and it was like watching in slow motion as the bus veered towards the barrier.”
Mr. Christie said that the driver of a bread van, who had overtaken him and was then overtaking the bus when it was back in the inside lane, had a narrow escape.
“The driver of the bread van seemed oblivious to the plight of the double decker bus and slowly passed it as well,” he noted.
Mr Christie followed the bus and pulled up behind it as the driver stopped at a bus stop just before the Maydown Roundabout and said its driver was “visibly shaken.”
“I congratulated him on a superb piece of driving. I told him he should have been a stunt driver. He said, all joking aside, it was a nightmare.”
Mr. Christie said he the driver was relieved there were no passengers onboard at the time as they might have been panicking.
“When he saw a bread van passing him on the outside lane - he was hoping its driver would speed up so the bus wouldn’t have crushed it - had it toppled over.
“He added that he thought the signs closing the bridge to high sided vehicles should have been flashing - since the wind speeds must have been quite high to make the bus sway in the manner it did.
“He told me that he never had experienced anything like it before and hoped not to again.”
After being contacted for a response, a Department for Infrastructure spokesperson detailed the system operating on the bridge and the conditions recorded there around the time of the incident on Saturday.
The Departmental spokesperson said: “Foyle Bridge warning procedures during high winds are activated automatically when an average wind speed of 30 mph or more is recorded on the bridge.
“At this level, variable message signing on the two main approaches to the bridge would indicate high winds and a 30 mph speed restriction.
“Signs on the roundabout approaches would indicate high winds on Foyle Bridge. Additional warning measures are introduced incrementally as recorded wind speeds increase to 40 mph and above.
“Our records indicate that around 14:30 on March 17, 2018, the average recorded wind speed on the bridge was 18.3 mph, with a recorded maximum gust of 28 mph. As such, the automatic warning system would not have activated during that period.”
The ‘Derry Journal’ also contacted Translink yesterday, but due to the St. Patrick’s Day Bank Holiday, there was no one available at its Press Office.