M40 Closure J15 - J16 Both Directions, Warwickshire. Friday 26 June 2015
The M40 in Warwickshire was closed in both directions between J15 (Warwick) and J16 (Henley) due to two separate collisions involving a number of vehicles and resulting in a fatality. The road remained closed for Warwickshire Fire & Rescue to deal with one of the involved vehicles which caught fire and for Warwickshire Police to investigate the incident. Following this, extensive recovery operations and road repairs had to take place.
At approximately midnight on the 26th June our West Midlands Regional Control Centre were notified of an collision on the M40 southbound which was blocking the whole motorway. Initial reports (subsequently verified) advised the collision was between a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) and a car. Subsequent updates advised that the collision had resulted in the HGV catching fire and that due to smoke drifting across the northbound carriageway Warwickshire Police had closed the M40 in both directions between the J15 and J16. Further reports indicated that there had been a second collision behind the main incident involving 2 cars and a HGV with 1 of the cars having left the side of the motorway.
Highways England Traffic Officers were despatched by the Regional Control Centre and upon arrival verification was received that a collision involving a HGV and a car had occurred. The resulting HGV fire was substantial and had caused significant damage to the motorway infrastructure. A coordinated effort was immediately put into place with our Traffic officers working in close liaison with Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, Warwickshire Police and contractors working for Highways England. Further Traffic Officer patrols were despatched to the incident to re-inforce the closures at J15 and J16.
The second incident was also confirmed although this was not as significant as the first incident. Initially two cars collided, resulting in one of the cars leaving the carriageway and going about 3–4 metres down the embankment at the side of the motorway. It also suffered a small engine fire. The second car spun and collided, side on, with the rear of a HGV. There were no serious injuries reported from this second incident and it was quickly dealt with and cleared to the side of the road.
Once the significance of the first incident and likely protracted nature was clear our National Traffic Operations Centre began setting our electronic Variable Message Signs (VMS) across the region to advise of the closure of the M40. In addition our National Incident Liaison Officers began sending information out to the media regarding the incident as well as utilising social media channels to inform the public of the incident and road closure.
At approximately 01:00 a diversion route was established around the closure for traffic in both directions. Traffic on the southbound M40 upon reaching J16 were directed off of the motorway and back on to the M40 northbound to rejoin the M42 and head north to J6, exit and follow the hollow black circle symbol on local road signs. This would take road users via the A4177 southbound, the A452 southbound and the A45 eastbound before finally joining the A46 southbound to J15 of the M40. The northbound diversion was the above route in reverse and utilised the hollow black square symbol on local road signs. As the incident progressed through the morning there were reports that there were delays on the local roads around J16 and therefore the decision was taken at approximately 02:30 to extend the closure for the southbound M40 and closure the entry to that motorway from the M42 (thus cutting out the need to send southbound traffic back on itself at J16). Strategically we wanted to keep long distance traffic from the area around the closure and with this in mind our National Traffic Operations Centre and National Incident Liaison Officers began sending recommendations via our incident reports, social media and VMS for traffic bound for London and the South East from the Midlands and North West use the M6 and M1 rather than heading for the M40.
As the incident was clearly going to be of a protracted nature we needed to undertake all efforts to remove road users trapped within the closure southbound. At approximately 02:30 Warwickshire Fire and Rescue services assisted our Traffic Officers in removing a section of the central reservation barrier. This would allow us to evacuate the trapped traffic on to the closed northbound section of the M40 and send them up to the M42 where they could join the diversion detailed above. There was a fair amount of traffic to clear from behind the incident including a considerable number of HGVs. In addition the removal of the central reservation barrier is a significant undertaking as this barrier is an integral part of the motorway infrastructure and therefore required heavy cutting equipment. It was confirmed that all of the trapped traffic had been removed by 05:15.
Warwickshire Fire & Rescue worked tirelessly at the scene but regrettably the HGV fire was apparently difficult to control and despite repeated efforts to damp down the fire it reignited several times and finally was not fully extinguished until approx 07:00 and then needed some time to cool down before it could be safely worked on to get it removed. Given how long the vehicle had been smouldering for, there were concerns for the state of the carriageway and until the vehicle was removed a full carriageway inspection could not be fully done. However given the nature of the incident and amount of debris it was clear that the southbound carriageway would remain closed for some time and the reports issued by Highways England via both our incident reports and online media were set to reflect this and to urge road users intending on using the M40 to consider alternative routes and to allow additional time for their journey.
At approx 07:30 Warwickshire Police advised that the northbound M40 could be reopened safely as the fire in the HGV had been fully extinguished. Firstly the northbound entry slip road was reopened at J15 (thereby requiring traffic to exit and rejoin at J15) which allowed our officers to safely remove the closure of the main carriageway — this was completed by 08:00.
Throughout the morning Warwickshire Police undertook an extensive collision investigation and sadly they were able to confirm that the driver of the car involved in the incident had suffered fatal injuries in the collision. As a result the police had to carry out a forensic examination of the scene to determine the particulars of what occurred. Until the police have completed their investigations recovery and clean up cannot commence.
At 10:00 the HGV was in a condition that specialist recovery could safely commence pending the go ahead from Warwickshire Police (which was duly given). Given the damage to the HGV this was a complex affair and took a number of hours to complete. Once the HGV recovery was finished at approx 12:00 our worst fears for the state of the road surface were realised; the surface of the hard shoulder and the nearside 2 lanes of the motorway were significantly damaged, were beyond repairing and would require full removal and relaying. However it was determined that the outside lane of the motorway was relatively undamaged and once clear of debris it could be reopened. As a result our maintenance contractors established a full closure of the inside 2 lanes pending the extensive repair work and our Regional Control Centre began resourcing our officers to begin removing the closure of the link roads from the M42 to the M40. As the point where the M42/M40 meet is a major motorway interchange, we needed to put in place a considered plan of releasing traffic using rolling road blocks to remove the closures. This was in place by 13:30 and by 14:00 traffic had been released and allowed to rejoin the M40 southbound, passing the scene of the repair works in 1 lane.
Even though the motorway was reopen the reduction in normal capacity to only 1 lane meant delays rapidly built up and by 17:30 road users were experiencing delays of 1 hour over what would normally be expected on that section of road for that time of day. We continued to advise the public of the traffic conditions and delays and updates on the progress of the repairs via the various means at our disposal (VMS, social media, online reports, incident reports to the media) and we continued to encourage road users intending to use the M40 southbound betweeen the M42 and J15 to allow extra time for their journey and consider alternative routes.
Our contractors continued to work to strip the damaged road surface and relay new tarmac. It should be noted that motorway road surfaces need to be of a higher standard than other roads given the volume and types of vehicles they have to take, as a result the complete removal and relaying of a motorway is an extensive operation. Our contractors reported that the resurfacing was completed at 22:00 and the middle lane of the motorway was reopened. The nearside lane remained closed following the resurfacing work. This was because we had scheduled maintenance work on the nearside verge of the motorway some time ago for the night of the 26/27 June and as the resurfacing was complete and the delays passing the scene had cleared it was decided that these works could be carried out as planned.
We endeavoured to keep our customers fully aware of what was happening regarding this incident throughout the day via our usual channels on our Traffic England website, social media channels, and via our colleagues at “Traffic radio” broadcasters.
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