M6 Closure Northbound, West Midlands. Sunday 21 August 2016

The M6 in the West Mid­lands was closed north­bound between J10 (Wal­sall) and J10A (M54 Link) due to a fatal col­li­sion which involved an Artic­u­lated Heavy Goods Vehi­cle, Van and Car which occurred on the near­side lanes of the car­riage­way cul­mi­nat­ing in exten­sive infra­struc­ture dam­age and a com­plex and lengthy vehi­cle recov­ery oper­a­tion — car­ried out overnight. 

Dur­ing Sun­day after­noon at 15:03 our col­leagues at the Cen­tral Motor­way Police Group (CMPG) informed our High­ways Eng­land Regional Con­trol Cen­tre in the West Mid­lands of an extremely seri­ous col­li­sion which had hap­pened in lane 1 (This is the Smart Motor­way sec­tion of the car­riage­way where the hard­shoul­der can oper­ate as an open lane). At the time of the inci­dent that lane was open. Staff imme­di­ately set tac­ti­cal VMS (vari­able mes­sage signs) before this loca­tion, to advise approach­ing traf­fic and to set advi­sory 30mph speed lim­its in the vicin­ity, in order to min­imise the risk of sec­ondary col­li­sions. Simul­ta­ne­ously, emer­gency Ser­vices includ­ing West Mid­lands Fire and Res­cue and West Mid­lands Ambu­lance were head­ing towards the scene to assist. An air ambu­lance was also en-route by this time — as it emerged that the vehi­cles involved were a van pulling a trailer, a car, and an HGV. By 15:15 traf­fic blocks had suc­cess­fully brought traf­fic to a stop in both direc­tions to allow the air ambu­lance to land.

Sadly, at 15:22 con­fir­ma­tion was received of a sin­gle fatal­ity from CMPG Offi­cers at the scene. A for­mal north­bound car­riage­way clo­sure was required, with inci­dent screens requested to the scene of the collision.

With this noti­fi­ca­tion, oper­a­tors located at our National Traf­fic Oper­a­tions Cen­tre were informed to set national strate­gic sig­nage on the wider motor­way net­work in order to inform cus­tomers and our National Inci­dent Liai­son Offi­cers were also briefed and began the process of inform­ing cus­tomers and the wider travel media. Break­ing News was imme­di­ately set on High­ways Eng­land Web­sites to inform of the clo­sure and, via High­ways Eng­land social media chan­nels [@HighwaysWMIDS], updates were tweeted on events which were unfolding.

Impor­tantly, with the loca­tion of this inci­dent being within the West Mid­lands conur­ba­tion, there is already a pre-agreed diver­sion route estab­lished with per­ma­nent road signs placed out as agreed with our stake­holder part­ners and the diver­sion utilises major roads within the local author­ity con­trolled areas which aids traf­fic flow. In this instance the pre­cise diver­sion was to fol­low the hol­low black cir­cle sym­bol from J10, onto the A454 Black Coun­try Route head­ing west­bound, fol­low­ing the A454 (The Key­way) before pro­ceed­ing onto the A4150, (Wolver­hamp­ton ring road). At this point cus­tomers then took the A449 (Stafford Road) north­bound to the M54 motor­way. At the M54 J2 round­about cus­tomers took the 2nd exit ahead and con­tin­ued north on the A449 where it even­tu­ally reaches the A5 Gai­ley round­about. Finally, at the Gai­ley round­about cus­tomers took the 3rd exit right and then took the A5 east­bound, to re-join the M6 at J12 near Cannock.

This route was ver­i­fied by West Mid­lands Regional Con­trol Cen­tre oper­a­tors as the appro­pri­ate route to be used and there­fore this was dis­sem­i­nated via our break­ing news mes­sages, reports to media and tweets. The diver­sion route was also being pub­lished on our Traf­fic Eng­land Web­site and our mobile app. Please see the map below, con­firm­ing the diver­sion route:-

At 15:25 there was a sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment in that the Air Ambu­lance was not required to land on the road. As a result, the hold of traf­fic on the south­bound car­riage­way was released by our Traf­fic Offi­cers. At this time dis­cus­sions were ongo­ing at the scene with CMPG and High­ways Eng­land as to how best man­age the trapped traf­fic on the north­bound car­riage­way. ‘Rear­ward turn­ing’ (where traf­fic is turned around at scene) was deemed appro­pri­ate, for cus­tomers stuck in queues back to J10.

Over the course of the next half hour our Kier con­trac­tor part­ners located inci­dent screens and headed to the scene to assist the police who had, by this time, informed High­ways Eng­land that the inevitable col­li­sion inves­ti­ga­tion would be required with their recov­ery resources remov­ing the vehi­cles involved. A num­ber of mea­sures took place to assist emer­gency ser­vices and High­ways Eng­land resources being able to reach the scene ade­quately, as soon as pos­si­ble. One of these mea­sures was the clos­ing of lane 1 from J8 – J10 which was actioned at 15:45. Equally at this time traf­fic was con­firmed flow­ing off at J10 to head along the pre­scribed diver­sion route. Again, in order to assist with traf­fic man­age­ment, rear­ward turn­ing of traf­fic com­menced at 15:51 and a few min­utes’ later staff at our West Mid­lands Regional Con­trol Cen­tre had con­tacted our local author­ity part­ners, Wal­sall Met­ro­pol­i­tan Bor­ough Coun­cil and Wolver­hamp­ton Coun­cil and South Stafford­shire Coun­cil of unfold­ing events.

At 16:00 with the inci­dent mov­ing into its sec­ond hour traf­fic queues had been sig­nif­i­cantly build­ing and from our CCTV cam­eras and Traf­fic Mon­i­tor­ing Infra­struc­ture we could see that queues of over 4 miles extended rear­ward to M6 J8 which is also the M5 link road at the Ray Hall inter­change. Dur­ing this time High­ways Eng­land were work­ing as quickly as pos­si­ble to man­age the sit­u­a­tion for our cus­tomers and impor­tantly, our request and liai­son with Wal­sall MBC who con­trol the traf­fic light phas­ing at J10 round­about switched the phase off to allow man­ual con­trol of traf­fic head­ing off the north­bound car­riage­way. Police and High­ways Eng­land Traf­fic Offi­cer units at scene were over­see­ing this oper­a­tion. Despite these mea­sures, the delays and queues were con­sid­er­able with at least 40mins of extra jour­ney times for cus­tomers head­ing from J8 to J10 on the M6. Addi­tion­ally, CCTV showed queues for M5 north­bound traf­fic seek­ing to merge onto the M6 north­bound carriageway.

With the traf­fic man­age­ment now in place and media now informed, a num­ber of out­lets advised and updated on the inci­dent inde­pen­dently. CMPG, West Mid­lands Police and West Mid­lands Fire were all issu­ing tweets and press releases had been issued. Police indi­cated that given the sever­ity of this inci­dent a clo­sure of up to 10 hours would prob­a­bly be required. Some of the chal­lenges were the extent of the dam­age to motor­way infra­struc­ture, the sever­ity of dam­age to the vehi­cles involved and the foren­sic inves­ti­ga­tion required.

Our Area 9 Kier con­trac­tors had despatched a num­ber of resources includ­ing inci­dent pro­tec­tion vehi­cles, sup­port units and elec­tri­cians. Bar­rier repair crews would later be required. Many lengths of bar­rier of the near­side were dam­aged and also elec­tri­cal cab­i­nets and cabling which ulti­mately links to CCTV cam­eras (10 in all affected with 2 con­crete bases oblit­er­ated). The recov­ery of the vehi­cles involved, in par­tic­u­lar the trailer and cab of the HGV required a num­ber of low loader trail­ers and 2 cranes lift back onto the road sur­face from its rest­ing posi­tion on the embankment.

Dur­ing this assess­ment phase at the scene a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment was the arrival of inci­dent screens which at least allowed trapped traf­fic to be released past the scene ahead and not turned rear­ward. At 16:18 this was noted and ulti­mately this dra­mat­i­cally reduced the wait­ing time for our cus­tomers who were regret­tably caught behind the col­li­sion, wait­ing to be turned back to J10 to get clear of the motor­way. It was not pos­si­ble to have the out­side lane per­ma­nently open to traf­fic due to the whole of the car­riage­way area being required for the inves­ti­ga­tion work and later the arrival and manoeu­vring of heavy recov­ery equipment.

Later that in the early evening the J9 north­bound entry slip entry slip road at Wednes­bury was also closed to assist with traf­fic man­age­ment and pre­vent fur­ther dis­rup­tion and delays for customers.

 

Over the course of the late after­noon and evening a num­ber of tele­phone con­fer­ences took place headed by Senior High­ways Eng­land Per­son­nel to ensure that all aspects of the inci­dent response were being man­aged effec­tively and every­thing was being done to get the car­riage­way re-opened as soon as was prac­ti­ca­ble. One impor­tant aspect was the V fes­ti­val event tak­ing place at nearby Weston Park and in par­tic­u­lar the fact that egress traf­fic on the A5 was meet­ing the diver­sion route traf­fic at the A5/A449 round­about at Gai­ley. Liai­son by National Inci­dent Liai­son Offi­cers with Police who queried this ensured this was analysed appro­pri­ately and ulti­mately no sec­ondary diver­sion routes were put in place due to the fact that nearby roads whilst avail­able, were not nec­es­sar­ily suit­able for HGV traf­fic. There was essen­tially a risk of fur­ther prob­lems which may affect resources already deployed. High­ways Eng­land was already work­ing with stake­holder part­ners at the V Fes­ti­val to man­age the event in terms of traf­fic flows and signage.

As the inci­dent moved in to the later evening the delays on the M6 sta­bilised with mea­sured delays between 15 and 30mins above pro­file for cus­tomers from J8 M6 and also on the link road from the M5 north­bound (the Ray Hall inter­change). These delays com­pletely cleared by 1am Mon­day morn­ing as noted from our CCTV and Traf­fic Data.

At this time staff at the National Traf­fic Oper­a­tions Cen­tre were adjust­ing delay sig­nage accord­ingly and it was envis­aged that the recov­ery oper­a­tion would be cleared by approx­i­mately 04:00 on Mon­day morn­ing, with Police inves­ti­ga­tion work over. The over­rid­ing con­cern was that this inci­dent should not extend into the morn­ing peak. Mea­sures were taken to min­imise this risk, for exam­ple con­trac­tors were in posi­tion to remove cones the moment that the car­riage­way was clear and Traf­fic Offi­cers were in place at M6 J7, in order to ini­ti­ate traf­fic blocks, the moment the order was given to re-open. As it tran­spired dur­ing the course of the night there were unfore­seen prob­lems. Of note was the HGV cab which was essen­tially crum­bling as it was manoeu­vred back onto the main car­riage­way from its rest­ing posi­tion on the embank­ment. This caused about an extra hour of closure.

Con­trac­tors also started hang­ing bar­ri­ers the moment the HGV was clear from the hardshoulder/verge area. Again this was proac­tive work to reduce clo­sure time. Con­trac­tors worked hard to get the bar­ri­ers in place and have safety restored. Fur­ther infra­struc­ture work would be necessary.

 Thank­fully, at 5am Mon­day morn­ing, the recov­ery work was done and by 05:15 con­trac­tors removed the cones on the north­bound car­riage­way. By 05:30 CCTV showed traf­fic run­ning through the scene with lanes 2, 3 and 4 now open. The entry slip road at J10 and J9 was open shortly after.

With this devel­op­ment, strate­gic sig­nage was adjusted to advise the north­bound car­riage­way was re-open to traf­fic on the motor­way. Addi­tion­ally staff at the West Mid­lands Regional Con­trol Cen­tre updated sig­nage for approach­ing traf­fic that lane 1 was still closed. National Inci­dent Liai­son Offi­cers based at the National Traf­fic Oper­a­tions Cen­tre updated break­ing news on High­ways Eng­land web­sites that the M6 was now open and tweets were issued on the @HighwaysWMIDS regional twit­ter feed. There were no sig­nif­i­cant delays mea­sured dur­ing the morn­ing after road re-opening.

It later tran­spired that the infra­struc­ture dam­age to CCTV equip­ment was more sig­nif­i­cant than first assessed and there­fore later that morn­ing the High­ways Eng­land Press Office issued a press release to inform:

“High­ways Eng­land is advis­ing motorists that the dynamic hard shoul­der of the M6 between junc­tions 10 and 10a (near Wal­sall) is likely to remain closed for at least the rest of this week for urgent repair work fol­low­ing a seri­ous road traf­fic col­li­sion. “We’d encour­age motorists to allow extra time for their jour­neys as we can­not oper­ate full smart motor­way along this sec­tion. Due to the dam­aged CCTV equip­ment which is essen­tial for the safe oper­a­tion of the dynamic hard shoul­der, we will not have the flex­i­bil­ity to pro­vide the usual fourth lane by open­ing the hard shoul­der dur­ing peak traffic”.

“Dri­vers should leave slightly longer for their jour­neys while it is closed as this sec­tion of the motor­way, near the exit for the M54 motorway.

High­ways Eng­land would like to thank motorists for their patience throughout”.

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