M6 Closure within J7, Northbound, West Midlands, Tuesday 26th July 2016

The M6 in The West Mid­lands was closed north­bound within the J7 (Birm­ing­ham, Wal­sall, A34) near Great Barr, due to a HGV that caught fire. The road remained closed for sev­eral hours to enable the fire to brought under con­trol, HGV recov­ery and car­riage­way sur­face inspec­tion and repairs.

At approx­i­mately 08:11 on the morn­ing of Tues­day 26th July West Mid­lands Fire Ser­vice were noti­fied by a High­ways Eng­land con­trac­tor that a HGV on the M6 north­bound within J7 on fire. West Mid­lands Fire Ser­vices and Cen­tral Motor­way Police Group (CMPG) despatched units to the scene. High­ways England’s West Mid­lands Regional Con­trol Cen­tre (WMRCC) oper­a­tors were also noti­fied at the same time and despatched a High­ways Eng­land Traf­fic Offi­cer patrol. Our WMRCC started set­ting warn­ing mes­sages on the elec­tronic Vari­able Mes­sage Signs (VMS) approach­ing the scene. In addi­tion they noti­fied the National Traf­fic Oper­a­tions Cen­tre (NTOC) in Birm­ing­ham of the inci­dent. NTOC set elec­tronic signs fur­ther afield of the inci­dent to notify road users and ensured that the High­ways England’s traf­fic infor­ma­tion web­site Traf­fic Eng­land was advis­ing users of the incident.

The inci­dent was also visu­ally con­firmed via nearby CCTV.

It was con­firmed that the dri­ver of the HGV was out and safely away from the fire. At 08:19 our traf­fic offi­cer on scene advised (via CMPG) that traf­fic could no longer pass the scene and a full clo­sure of the road was required north­bound. A diver­sion was put in place via the exit and entry slip roads of J7, this is known as an ‘up and over’. Our National Inci­dent Liai­son Offi­cers (NILO) fully briefed the national and local media and updated our Twit­ter fol­low­ers via @HighwaysWMIDS account.

Traf­fic on the south­bound car­riage­way had also been stopped whilst the fire was dealt with due to con­cerns of drift­ing smoke and also because the haz­ard that such an inci­dent can cause in dis­tract­ing pass­ing road users.

South­bound traf­fic was released and allowed to pass the scene at approx­i­mately 08:40 as the fire had been brought under con­trol by that time. How­ever it took some time for the fire to be fully extin­guished. This was done by 10:05 and the vehi­cle could then be approached and assessed to deter­mine how best to recover it from the road.

At approx­i­mately 11:00 it was deter­mined by the on-scene emer­gency ser­vices that a lane could be opened past the scene of the inci­dent. This would help alle­vi­ate pres­sure on the J7 diver­sion which was caus­ing con­ges­tion back along the M6 to J5. Delays for the inci­dent peaked at approx­i­mately 60 min­utes over the nor­mal jour­ney time for this time of day.

At approx­i­mately 12:10 West Mid­lands Fire & Res­cue ser­vice had to return to the scene of the inci­dent as the fire had par­tially reignited and this had stopped the recov­ery process. Whilst the Fire Ser­vice damped down the vehi­cle again traf­fic had to be stopped from pass­ing the scene again. By 12:40 the fire had been extin­guished and traf­fic was once again released to run past the scene in one lane.

In order for the recov­ery con­trac­tors to have a safe work­ing envi­ron­ment it was nec­es­sary at 13:15 to close the sin­gle lane run­ning past the inci­dent and to imple­ment the up-and-over diver­sion again. Recov­ery of such a heav­ily dam­aged vehi­cle is a com­plex affair and as such it took until 14:00 for the vehi­cle to be removed and a full inspec­tion of the road sur­face under­taken to deter­mine the extent of dam­age and what level of repair was required. Sadly the road sur­face was sig­nif­i­cantly dam­aged and it was deter­mined that it would need to be fully replaced with new tarmac.

Con­trac­tors on scene deter­mined that a tem­po­rary repair to the road sur­face could be com­pleted by strip­ping off the dam­aged sur­face and allow­ing traf­fic to travel through with a tem­po­ray speed limit with the inten­tion to fully close the road overnight when traf­fic vol­umes are nor­mally lower in order to fully replace the road sur­face. The dam­aged road sur­face was there­fore removed and the exposed under layer of the road planed to pro­vide a road sur­face suit­able for traf­fic to pass over.

This was com­pleted by 16:00 and traf­fic was allowed to travel in all 3 lanes over the tem­po­rary road sur­face with a tem­po­rary speed limit of 40mph. This reopen­ing helped sig­nif­i­cantly with the delays on the M6 north­bound and by 17:30 traf­fic delays had cleared and road users were expe­ri­enc­ing nor­mal travel times for that sec­tion of motor­way for that time of day.

At approx­i­mately 22:00 the road was closed again within J7 and an up-and-over diver­sion was imple­mented again for the road sur­face to be fully replaced and this was com­pleted overnight. Delays did occur ini­tially as result of the road being closed again but these dis­si­pated by mid­night and the repairs were com­plete and road fully re-opened by 06:00.

Through­out the dura­tion of the inci­dent both High­ways England’s NTOC and NILO teams ensured the local and national media were kept updated of the progress of the inci­dent. In addi­tion these teams mon­i­tored the impact on road users of the clo­sure and kept the pub­lic up-to-date via social media, traf­fic report emails and the elec­tronic VMS on the motor­way net­work both locally and fur­ther afield.

High­ways Eng­land would like to thank road users affected by this inci­dent for their patience and under­stand­ing throughout.

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