M5 Closure J24 – J23 Both Directions, Somerset. Wednesday 06 January 2016
The M5 in Somerset was closed on Wednesday 06 January between J24 – J23 due to an overturned HGV Tanker. The scene of the incident was on the northbound carriageway J24 – J23. The HGV ruptured its tank spilling some 1000 litres of Kerosene across the road. This substantial spillage, lifting and recovery operation and subsequent resurfacing necessitated the full closure.
Shortly before 9am in the morning an overturned HGV Tanker was reported to Avon & Somerset Police who had received information from a member of the public and the incident was relayed to our South West Regional Control Centre. Highways England operative in the Control Centre instantly set signs and signals in the immediate vicinity to warn approaching traffic and swiftly located the incident on CCTV.
A multi-agency response was underway as Highways England Traffic Officers were designated to head to the scene to assist units from Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue, Avon & Somerset Police and the South West Ambulance Service.
At the outset a lane 2 and 3 closure was needed until assessment at the scene could be undertaken but nevertheless Highways England Contractors were called just after 9am as it was clear that traffic management measures and clean-up work would require their expertise. Thankfully it emerged that the driver of the vehicle was only slightly injured and was not trapped in the cab of the vehicle.
When Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue arrived at the scene, it was quickly established that the vehicle was transporting Kerosene. For those not familiar, Kerosene is a major component of aviation fuel also used as a solvent, degreaser and domestic fuel. Most significantly, the fire service deemed it necessary to implement a 150 metre cordon in accordance with regulations as Kerosene is a hazardous material.
This essentially meant that the motorway needed to be closed in both directions on safety grounds. During the next hour Highways England Contractors and Traffic Officers were engaged in implementing full closures of the northbound and southbound carriageways and the J24 northbound and J23 southbound entry slip roads. Additionally the Environment Agency and the Department for Transport Hazardous Goods Branch were contacted accordingly.
The closure of the northbound carriageway effectively meant a number of vehicles were now stationary in “trapped traffic”. Once it was safe to do so our Highways England Traffic Officers began the process of turning traffic around and heading rearward back to J24 to be able to leave the motorway. Just prior to 10am this process was underway. During the course of the first hour Signs and Signal from farther afield were set by staff at the National Traffic Operations Centre in Birmingham and tweets were issued to the @HighwaysSWEST twitter feed and Breaking News information was published on Highways England websites. When the closures were confirmed diversion routes were available. These routes are pre-determined with stakeholders and signed established on the route. For this incident the routes were: southbound traffic is to follow the Solid Square symbol via the A38 southbound from J23 and northbound traffic follows the Solid Triangle symbol taking the A38 northbound via Bridgwater.
Congestion at this time was significant with delays of up to 60mins and significant congestion within Bridgwater on the diversion route.
Just before 10:30am it was reported from scene that the leak of Kerosene had been stemmed which was important as there was an estimated 5500 litres still left in the vehicle. Later just before 11am representatives from the Environment Agency arrived. The flow of the Kerosene, which had escaped from the truck, was entering the draining system and to prevent this happening, a boom was placed by fire and rescue to stem the tide. During the late morning recovery operators were deployed and a replacement truck for the transhipment of the load headed to the scene. It was noted at this time that the stricken HGV was still vulnerable and there was a risk of the Kerosene igniting.
Apart from the environmental factors of the incident, Avon & Somerset Police collision investigation teams also were in place to carry out their investigations in to cause of the truck overturning. The Fire Service had 3 fire appliances deployed and remained on scene to oversee the decanting of the Kerosene.
Into the early afternoon the decant operation took place and this took a number of hours. It was during this time that contractors from Highways England were able to start inspections of the road surface and the likelihood was that resurfacing of the road would potentially be necessary for both directions. The impact of the event during the afternoon remained and delays reported from traffic data still indicated delays of 50mins above profile in the vicinity. Three Highways England units had been steadily turning trapped traffic around with ¾ miles of traffic unfortunately having to be turned. It was reported at 12:45 that a number of vehicles had broken down, mostly with flat batteries and this hampered efforts to clear vehicles. By 1pm trapped traffic was fully cleared.
Throughout the mid to later afternoon the clean-up operation continued and preparations made for recovery of the stricken tanker. As a traffic management measure Highways England closed the J25 northbound entry slip road to ease the northbound congestion approaching the J24 diversion. Highways England Contractors were notably involved during the late afternoon with provision of lighting rigs to illuminate the area as daylight was being to fade. These rigs were escorted to the scene and set up to avoid any delay in the operations at the scene. There were a number of obstacles and challenges that Highways England Traffic Officers faced during the course of the afternoon. Some aspects were vehicles inappropriately reversing, dealing with vehicle breakdowns and perhaps the largest of all was a wide load comprising of a steam train which was travelling northbound approaching the congestion at J25 – J24. There were concerns that this vehicle was inappropriate for the diversion route and therefore it was steered to an appropriate parking place at J24.
By 17:15 the recovery operation of the tanker was being conducted by contractors and the tanker was successfully righted and removed. This was significant as there was no longer a safety risk from the Kerosene fumes. A further development was that despite leaks affecting the whole of the road the southbound carriageway was not required to have resurfacing done and could therefore be re-opened. Highways England Traffic Officers and Contractors were therefore deployed to remove traffic management and the southbound closure was removed by 18:00.
With police investigations also completed and fire & rescue clear of the scene, Highways England was now leading the operation to restore the northbound carriageway. It had already been determined that resurfacing was required due to the Kerosene damage. Importantly, to alleviate the queues on the northbound carriageway our Traffic Officers put in place a rolling road block to hold northbound traffic whilst our contractors and their staff amended traffic management at the scene to open the northbound carriageway but with a 20mph speed limit in place. The objective was to clear the congestion prior to an overnight closure to resurface. The J25 northbound entry slip road had earlier been re-opened at 19:15 and the main carriageway was opened at 21:00. Once all the earlier congestion has cleared, the carriageway was again fully closed in order for our service providers to safely resurfacing the carriageway, repairing the damage caused. This was completed and the M5 was fully re-opened to traffic at 05:40 Thursday 7th January.
Throughout this incident, Highways England updated customers via our website www.highways.gov.uk/traffic-information/ and via our regional twitter feed @HighwaysSWEST.
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