M6 Closure Southbound Between J39 and J37, Cumbria. Sunday 21 February 2016.
The M6 in Cumbria was closed southbound between J39 and J37 following two serious collisions involving a number of vehicles between J38 and J37. The second collision resulted in 1 fatality and 1 serious injury. The road remained closed whilst Cumbria Police carried out a collision investigation and subsequent clean-up work and vehicle recovery.
At approx 0940 on Sunday 21st February Highways England’s North West Regional Control Centre (NWRCC) received notification of a collision on the southbound M6 between J38 (Kendal, Brough, A685) and J37 (Kendal, Sedbergh, A684). Details were sketchy at the time but it was believed a number of vehicles were involved. Our NWRCC operators confirmed that Cumbria Police, Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service and North West Ambulance Service resources were en-route to the scene. In addition the NWRCC dispatched a Highways England Traffic Officer patrol unit to the scene.
Due to lack of CCTV coverage in this section of the motorway it was not possible to visually confirm the details of the incident.
At 1000 our Traffic Officer patrol arrived at the incident where a British Army 33 Signal Squadron unit who were passing the scene had stopped and were rendering first aid and assistance to the people involved in the collision. The collision involved a car and light goods vehicle which were obstructing several lanes of the motorway. Our patrol halted traffic (which had been slowly navigating around the obstruction) and the officers began to assess the scene. North West Air Ambulance had also been dispatched to the scene but it was quickly ascertained that although there were a number of injuries, none of them were significant in nature and the air ambulance was not required to land and therefore departed the area.
Traffic was held for some time whilst the attending emergency services extracted all injured parties from the vehicles who were then transferred by paramedics from the North West Ambulance Service to a local hospital for precautionary checks. Once this was completed the remaining emergency services began work to clear the vehicles to the side of the motorway and clear-up the debris in order to get traffic moving again. This was completed by 1040 and all three lanes of the motorway were reopened.
The vehicles involved in the collision remained on the hard shoulder of the motorway and the emergency services departed the scene leaving the Highways England patrol on the hard shoulder to protect the vehicles until local vehicle recovery contractors could attend to remove the vehicles. The recovery contractor arrived on scene at approx 1140 and commenced work.
At approx 1215 our NWRCC received a notification that a second incident had occurred at the scene and that one or two persons on the roadside attending the recovery had been struck resulting in serious injury. Our NWRCC operators made significant efforts to establish the details and immediately contacted Cumbria Police and North West Ambulance Service to return to the scene of the incident as a matter of urgency.
The first unit on scene was a Cumbria Police patrol who arrived at approx 1227 and began assessing the scene. At 1230 Cumbria Police advised from scene that this was a very serious incident and the instructed NWRCC to close the motorway. In addition North West Air Ambulance was asked to head to the incident for two serious injuries.
In order to provide a diversion route from J38 that could handle motorway volumes of traffic the decision was made to close the motorway from J39 (Shap, Kendal, A6). Traffic was therefore diverted off at J39 and instructed to follow a route marked with a hollow circle symbol on local road signs. This took traffic via the B6261 and A6 to Kendal followed by the A590 to J36 of the M6. Additional Highways England patrols, assisted by personnel from the Highways England maintenance contractor (Kier), assisted in implementing closures.
North West Air Ambulance dispatched two helicopters to the incident and this required the northbound carriageway to be closed in order to provide a suitable landing site. As such a Highways England patrol implemented the northbound closure at J37 and directed traffic off on to A684 westbound towards Kendal to pick up the A6 northbound to J39 of the M6. Once the northbound closure was in place one air ambulance landed on the northbound carriageway at approx 1330 and a second air ambulance attending and landed on the southbound carriageway at approx 1338.
Whilst at the scene Cumbria Police confirmed that one person had suffered fatal injuries and another was in a critical condition and was taken from the scene by air ambulance. Cumbria Police advised that given the situation and injuries they would be carrying out a full and extensive collision investigation before the incident could be cleared and the road reopened. As such the road would remain closed southbound for some time.
With both air ambulances clear of the scene the northbound carriageway could be reopened. This was done at 1535 although the outside lane nearest the central reservation remained closed past the incident in order to provide a buffer zone and safer working environment for the emergency services on the southbound side. This lane closure was removed at 2000.
At 1350 Highways England had sufficient resources on scene to begin to try and remove the trapped traffic caught within the closure. As the incident location could not be cleared to allow traffic to filter past the scene the only viable option was to begin turning traffic caught between J38 and the scene of the incident around from the back. This would also need to be managed with the traffic caught between the J39 and J38. This would be a complicated endeavour that would take some time to complete and require a large number of personnel due to the large number of vehicles of various types and sizes. At 1615 the removal of trapped traffic needed to be halted due to a collision between 2 cars at J38 resulting in injuries. Until an ambulance could attend to the casualties we were unable to continue allowing trapped traffic out of the closure at J38. An ambulance attended this collision and established the injuries were minor. As a result Highways England officers on the scene cleared the 2 cars to the side and the removal of trapped traffic resumed at 1655. All trapped traffic was removed from the closure by 1810.
Cumbria Police continued to work at scene investigating the incident. This was not completed until approx 2000 when the scene of the incident was handed over to Highways England and the scene could be cleared. This was completed by 2030 and the closures at J39 and J38 and the Tebay Services started to be removed. This was done in stages with the whole carriageway and junctions being reopened by 2115.
At its peak there were delays in excess of an hour with very slow traffic for 10 miles between J40 and J39 due to this closure. Once off of the motorway the A6 and local roads through Kendal and the A590 were heavily congested resulting in substantial delays to road users. Whilst this is regrettable, the closure of a motorway in a largely rural area will limit the options for alternative routes, particularly routes suitable for all the vehicles using the motorway (in particular Heavy Goods Vehicles). Throughout the incident the NWRCC contacted the Highways England’s National Traffic Operations Centre (NTOC) in Birmingham to advise of the closure. Operators there began setting messages on the electronic Variable Message Signs (VMS) on the M6 southbound further north to advise of the closure. In addition they contacted Traffic Scotland to ensure that the closure was signed for on the VMS operated by them north of the border on the M74. They also updated our online traffic information services such as Traffic England (www.trafficengland.com or m.highways.gov.uk) and our smartphone travel apps to advise of the closure. Our National Incident Liaison Officer (NILO) based in the NTOC also produced an incident specific report and distributed to the local and national media along with third party travel information providers, partner organisations within the transport industry to advise of the incident, its severity and its impact. Finally our NILO utilised Highways England’s @HighwaysNWEST twitter account to advise of the closure. During the progress of the incident both the NTOC and NILO updated all of the above information services with further details, any changes in situation and the impact on road users.
If you were affected by this protracted incident and closure Highways England would like to thank for your patience and understanding.
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