M56 Closure Both Directions, Cheshire, Tuesday 20th October 2015

The M56 in Cheshire was closed in both direc­tions between J11 (Run­corn, War­ring­ton) and J14 (Ellesmere Port)  west­bound and between J14 and J12 (Run­corn) east­bound on the 20th Octo­ber 2015 due to an over­turned chem­i­cal tanker.

At approx 1545 on Tues­day 20th Octo­ber 2015 our North West Regional Con­trol Cen­tre were noti­fied by the North West Motor­way Police Group (NWMPG) that a Heavy Goods Vehi­cle (HGV) chem­i­cal tanker had over-turned between J14 and J12 on the M56 east­bound. Early reports indi­cated that the chem­i­cal load of the tanker was leak­ing out. Both NWMPG and our­selves dis­patched sev­eral units to the scene with haste. Given the type of vehi­cle involved Cheshire Fire & Res­cue were noti­fied and they dis­patched sev­eral units to the reported loca­tion of the incident.

The first emer­gency ser­vice units arrived on scene at approx 1600 and report­ing back as to the nature of the inci­dent and more impor­tantly regard­ing the chem­i­cal load which was leak­ing. It was quickly ascer­tained that this was haz­ardous chem­i­cal and there­fore a full clo­sure of the M56 was required in both direc­tions as an urgent mat­ter of pub­lic safety. As a result addi­tional resources were sum­moned by High­ways Eng­land to make their way to the area in assist­ing in imple­ment­ing the clo­sure of both the east and west­bound M56.

Cheshire Fire and Res­cue advised the attend­ing police patrols from both the NWMPG and from Cheshire Police that the chem­i­cal would require a cor­don to be estab­lished around the scene whilst it was dealt with and the tanker could not be approached until per­son­nel wear­ing the appro­pri­ate safety equip­ment were on scene. The chem­i­cal was con­firmed as ethanol tri­azine (which can cause irri­ta­tion to the res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem if inhaled and severe irri­ta­tion if it comes in to con­tact with skin) and 1.8 km exclu­sion zone was declared around the scene. The dri­ver of the HGV was not injured but was taken to hos­pi­tal for pre­cau­tion­ary checks aris­ing from the chem­i­cal spillage.

At 1615 the police on scene began to evac­u­ate the occu­pants of vehi­cles near to the scene and began fer­ry­ing them to a nearby ser­vice area. In addi­tion High­ways Eng­land instructed its main­te­nance con­trac­tor for the north west to begin arrang­ing for the appro­pri­ate per­son­nel and equip­ment to make to the area in order to remove the cen­tral reser­va­tion safety bar­rier so we could evac­u­ate other vehi­cles within the clo­sure by turn­ing them around.

As Cheshire Fire & Res­cue advised that this inci­dent was going to be pro­tracted, due to the nature of the chem­i­cal spill and the spe­cial­ist clean-up that it would require, High­ways Eng­land National Traf­fic Oper­a­tions Cen­tro (NTOC)  set elec­tronic Vari­able Mes­sage Signs (VMS) across the north west of Eng­land to advise of the clo­sure of the motor­way. This included signs as far away as the Mid­lands on the M6 north­bound, Lan­cashire on the M6 south­bound and fur­ther exten­sive sig­nage on the M62 west­bound. We also con­tacted Traf­fic Wales to ensure that there was sig­nage set on the A55 east­bound across North Wales to warn of the closure.

In addi­tion to the exten­sive sig­nage that was set High­ways England’s team of  National Inci­dent Liai­son Offi­cers (NILO) issued inci­dent reports to the local and national media of the inci­dent.  These reports pro­vide details of the inci­dent and pro­vide an ongo­ing diary of the progress of the inci­dent, how it’s being man­aged and its impact on the trav­el­ling pub­lic. These reports were reg­u­larly updated and re-issued to the media through­out the inci­dent to ensure that the travel media are aware of what’s hap­pened, what is being done and what trav­el­ers can expect and relay that to the pub­lic. Our NILOs also used social media to report on the inci­dent to the pub­lic, as did other emer­gency ser­vices who were attend­ing the inci­dent and media out­lets. Fur­ther­more High­ways England’s online travel web­site was updated reg­u­larly with infor­ma­tion regard­ing the clo­sures (this was in addi­tion to third party traf­fic infor­ma­tion providers who uti­lize High­ways England’s inci­dent reports to update their own online travel web­sites). In addi­tion to this, when the inci­dent was clearly going to be of sig­nif­i­cant dura­tion press releases were issued by High­ways Eng­land, NWMPG and Cheshire Fire & Rescue.

At 1635 a diver­sion route was con­firmed for traf­fic from J14 to J12 (and vice-versa for west­bound traf­fic). The route was marked with a sym­bol and was approved for use as an alter­na­tive for the motor­way. It would take east­bound traf­fic onto A5117 south­bound,  then the A56 south­bound fol­lowed by the A557 north­bound to re-join at M56 at J12.  The west­bound clo­sure was extended back to J11 to ease con­ges­tion on the local roads. This clo­sure would take traf­fic via the A56 north­bound, A558 west­bound, A533 south­bound fol­lowed by the A557 west­bound to J12 of the M56. From there traf­fic would fol­low the reverse of the above route. Unfor­tu­nately the only viable routes around the clo­sure would take traf­fic along a route with a bridge with a low clear­ance of 14′ 6″. This pre­sented a prob­lem for larger HGVs and there­fore many of these were forced to park up off the motor­way net­work to await its reopen­ing. High­ways Eng­land endeav­oured to com­mu­ni­cate of the height restric­tion on the diver­sion route using our reports to the media, our online travel bul­letins, our press releases through­out the inci­dent and via social media.

At 1700 the spe­cial­ist crew arrived on scene for to under­take the removal of the cen­tral reser­va­tion bar­rier. They iden­ti­fied two pos­si­ble loca­tions where this could be done and began work. The removal of the cen­tral reser­va­tion bar­rier is a sub­stan­tial piece of work as the bar­rier forms part of the motor­way struc­ture but by 1800 a gap was avail­able and traf­fic both on the east and west­bound car­riage­ways began to be turned around. In addi­tion High­ways Eng­land traf­fic offi­cers were also turn­ing trapped traf­fic around from the back of the queue so they could exit at the near­est junc­tion behind them. Whilst this allowed smaller vehi­cles a means to exit the clo­sure some larger HGVs were too large to manoeu­vre out of the clo­sure and there­fore were per­mit­ted to remain in the closed sec­tion of motorway.

For the own­ers of vehi­cles within the cor­don, they were moved to a nearby  ser­vice area and once the cor­don was removed later on in the evening, the dri­vers of these vehi­cles were con­tacted and  escorted back to their vehi­cles by High­ways Eng­land traf­fic offi­cers and by the police.  This would last well in to the night as there were over 200 vehi­cles within the orig­i­nal cor­don and many of the own­ers found their own accom­mo­da­tion whilst they were away from their vehicles.

The scene of the inci­dent remained in the hands of Cheshire Fire & Res­cue for some time as the chem­i­cal spill required care­ful han­dling by spe­cial­ist fire crews in full pro­tec­tive equip­ment.  This delayed work to clear the spillage, remove the HGV, inspect the car­riage­way for dam­age and under­take repairs until the scene was safe.

Whilst this inci­dent was ongo­ing in the evening a sec­ond inci­dent occurred nearby which com­pli­cated mat­ters for local road users and emer­gency ser­vices alike. At 2123 our North West Regional Con­trol Cen­tre were noti­fied by Cheshire Police of a seri­ous col­li­sion on the M56 west­bound between J14 and J15. The inci­dent involved a col­li­sion between a HGV car trans­porter and car and sadly the occu­pants of the car sus­tained seri­ous injuries in the col­li­sion. Cheshire Police, Fire & Res­cue, Cheshire Ambu­lance and traf­fic offi­cers from High­ways Eng­land made towards the inci­dent. Cheshire Police deter­mined that a col­li­sion inves­ti­ga­tion would be required given the sever­ity of the injuries sus­tained and this would require a full clo­sure of the west­bound car­riage­way of the M56 between J14 and J15. As such this sec­ond inci­dent com­bined with the first resulted in the M56 west­bound now being closed from J11 to J15. High­ways Eng­land altered its mes­sage out­put on the VMS across the north of Eng­land to reflect this exten­sion of the clo­sure. In addi­tion our NILOs issued inci­dent reports and uti­lized social media and online report­ing to high­light this sec­ond inci­dent and its impact. Road users trapped within the clo­sure were thank­fully dealt with rapidly com­pared to the first inci­dent, they were allowed to fil­ter past the scene of the col­li­sion. This inci­dent was fully inves­ti­gated and the road cleared and reopened by 0230.

Pic­ture cour­tesy of Carl Thorn­ton Pho­tos (@CarlTPhotos)

Return­ing to the main inci­dent on the M56 between J14 and J12. Before the tanker could be recov­ered and the road exam­ined and assessed for repairs it needed to be drained of any remain­ing chem­i­cals. This required some care to carry out. How­ever whilst await­ing the all clear from Cheshire Fire Ser­vice both High­ways Eng­land and NWMPG began arrang­ing the appro­pri­ate resources to under­take the drain­ing, recov­ery, clean-up and road repairs so they were ready to go as soon as possible.

Pic­ture cour­tesy of Carl Thorn­ton Pho­tos (@CarlTPhotos)

At 1952 the cor­don was reduced to 50 metres around the scene but it was not until 2320 when Cheshire Fire & Res­cue were happy with the tanker to be approached and drained. As the resources to do this had already been arranged they made to the scene quickly and began remov­ing the remain­ing chem­i­cals at  2345. This was com­pleted by approx 0100 and then the oper­a­tion began to right the vehi­cle. This was com­pleted by approx 0200 and then it required secur­ing, check­ing for any remain­ing chem­i­cals and then removal. Due to dam­age sus­tained to the HGV when it over-turned the recov­ery con­trac­tor were required to under­take some repairs on scene which delayed to the clear­ing of the vehi­cle.  The tanker was removed from the scene at 0300.

Pic­ture cour­tesy of Carl Thorn­ton Pho­tos (@CarlTPhotos)

Once the vehi­cle was cleared the clean-up of the road sur­face could then begin in earnest and allow for inspec­tion of the sur­face and, more impor­tantly, the sub-surface of the road for any dam­age. Luck­ily these inspec­tions did not reveal any sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to the road and there­fore resur­fac­ing was deter­mined to not be required. How­ever there was a lot of debris to sweep up off of the road. In addi­tion the cen­tral reser­va­tion bar­rier needed to be rein­stalled fol­low­ing the ear­lier cut­ting of it to facil­i­tate the removal of trapped traf­fic. The impact of the chem­i­cal that had been spilled was less­ened by a band of heavy rain which swept across the area dur­ing the early hours.

Fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of the re-installation of the cen­tral reser­va­tion bar­ri­ers at approx 0345 our traf­fic man­age­ment crews and traf­fic offi­cers began remov­ing the clo­sures. As the road clo­sures were installed using fully rein­forced traf­fic man­age­ment the clo­sures took a short while to be removed but the clo­sures were com­pletely removed by 0430.

Through­out the dura­tion of this inci­dent High­ways  Eng­land mon­i­tored the impact on traf­fic approach­ing the clo­sure and on the local road net­work. The peak delay time for traf­fic approach­ing the clo­sures were 1 hour above the nor­mal jour­ney times for the time of day. There were fur­ther exten­sive delays on the local roads around the area.

High­ways Eng­land and our part­ner organ­i­sa­tions would like to thank every­one affected by this pro­tracted inci­dent for their patience and under­stand­ing whilst we worked to deal with this very dif­fi­cult and com­plex situation.

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