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.
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.
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.
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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