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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