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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