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.

M6 Closure J39-J37

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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