M4 Closure Eastbound, Berkshire. Friday 04 November 2016
The M4 in Berkshire was closed eastbound between J13 (Chieveley) and J11 (Reading), due to an incident involving an HGV which overturned. The articulated vehicle was transporting a 24 tonne load of bottles of bleach when it overturned and came to rest straddling the nearside embankment, the hard shoulder, lane 1 and partially encroaching into lane 2 of the 3 lanes of the carriageway.
On Friday morning at 04:48 Thames Valley Police notified Highways England that they were receiving reports of an overturned HGV on the eastbound carriageway of the M4. Our East Regional Control Centre which is responsible for this part of our network immediately set signs and signals out on the motorway to advise approaching traffic that lanes 1 and 2 were closed and two of our Highways England Traffic Officer units were deployed to the scene. Within minutes our maintenance contractors were also informed of this incident as from the description of the event it was clear that their involvement would be required. By 05:00 the incident which had been located on CCTV, showed that the Police had arrived and were assessing the scene.
A few minutes later their observations were confirmed to our East Regional Control Centre and Traffic Officers initiated a rolling road block in order to bring traffic to a stop prior to the incident. By 05:10 Traffic Officers and Police were becoming aware of a significant diesel and hydraulic fluid spillage coming from the HGV as well as leakage from some of the bottles of bleach that the vehicle was carrying. A large gouge in the road surface in lane 2 was also later discovered. Thankfully, by 05:20 it was confirmed there were no injuries resulting from the incident and by now Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service had arrived to assist. After liaison with the Police it was determined that Highways England would oversee the recovery of the HGV under statutory powers to remove the vehicle.
At this early point in the event, operators based at our East Regional Control Centre had notified our National Traffic Operations Centre (NTOC) based in Birmingham where staff began to update the media and disseminate incident information via Twitter and began to set electronic variable message signs (VMS) further afield to provide as much information as possible to customers who were heading towards the incident. Customers travelling to London from the South West were provided with electronic signing on the approach advising them to join the A34 southbound at J13 and then once on this diversion route with follow up signs advising them to take the A303 eastbound and M3 eastbound to join the M25.
Two additional fire appliances had arrived by 05:30 (totalling 6) and a further request to our contractors was made to request a gritter vehicle to attend due to the large spillage of diesel and bleach. In addition, given the hazardous nature of the vehicle’s load, contact was made with the Environment Agency by our East Regional Control Centre. At the scene some of the shed load was being assessed for damage and leakage. By 05:50 lane 3 was able to be opened to enable traffic to slowly make its way past the scene .
Over the course of the next hour there were occasional blocks of traffic, for example when vehicle recovery maneuvered into positon at 07:24 and when fire service units were operating. Delays at this point for approaching traffic were starting to rise with 2 miles of queues on the approach noted from CCTV in the area and by 07:45 our on-road data collection was measuring delays of at least 50mins above the normal journey time for this time of day. Our press office were liaising with media organisations to ensure that information about the incident was being correctly and widely publicised. Senior staff within Highways England were also involved and we escalated to a region wide alert to prepare for potential further demands on resources.
By 08:00 the vehicle had been stabilised and recovery operations were ready to commence. This required a full closure of the carriageway and therefore measures were put in place to close the M4 from J12 – J11 with Traffic Officers deployed to initiate blocks to hold traffic between J13 — J12 while traffic management for the closure at J12 was set up. Our East Regional Control Centre were also liaising with Reading Council and Berkshire Highways in preparation to manage the impact on local authority roads affected by traffic diverted away from the motorway.
The electronic VMS signs were adjusted to inform approaching customers that the road was now fully closed and headline messages to warn of the closure were published on Highways England’s websites. A diversion route is already established and agreed with the local authority for a closure of the road in this location and this was publicised to the travel media and directly to our Twitter followers. The diversion entailed leaving at J12, proceeding via the A4 towards Reading and then using the A33 southbound to return to the M4 at J11.
At 09:15 an important decision was taken to close the M4 further back at J13 in a measure to ease congestion by diverting traffic onto the A34 which is better able to cope with the volume of motorway traffic being diverted and gave customers the option of taking longer distance diversions via the A34 south, A303 eastbound and M3 eastbound for London, or joining the A34 northbound to join the M40 southbound to travel to the north side of the M25 or if traveling more locally then following the pre-agreed local diversion route using the A34 southbound to then take the A339 and A4 towards Reading and then use the A33 to re-join at J11. This measure helps to dilute congestion on local roads in the surrounding area and the message was also cascaded to the travel media and via Twitter.
Lift and recovery operations continued through the morning and by 09:50 the HGV was righted and standing with its load removed. This coincided with a reduction in traffic queues approaching the M4 junction 13 closure. The diversion routes however, remained very busy. Despite the HGV now being upright, significant numbers of staff were still deployed managing the incident with entry slip road closures having to be maintained and further heavy recovery vehicles deployed to assist including two tipper trucks to remove the HGV’s load. Police and fire service units also remained in attendance. Despite efforts to clear traffic it took a considerable time for traffic which was queuing between J13 and J12 to leave the motorway at J12. Although drivers faced natural frustration at being delayed, one of our Traffic Officers working out at the incident received a very kind gesture when a member of the public brought him a breakfast from a nearby branch of a well-known fast food outlet. Pressure was being brought to bear at this time by both Highways England and Thames Valley Police to allow lane 3 to re-open past the scene to allow clearance of traffic. Indeed, throughout the morning a number of telephone conferences were held involving Thames Valley Police, Highways England, the local road authorities and the road maintenance contractors to ensure that all elements of the incident were being collectively managed as effectively as possible.
From 11:00 through to 13:00 concerted efforts were being made to clear the scene of the load and grab vehicles and a sweeper vehicle continued to work after the HGV had been removed. By 12:00 the carriageway had been cleared and the entry slip road closure at J12 was being lifted and traffic was able to pass the scene again using lane 3. Over the course of the next hour the full carriageway closures were removed at J12 and then for through traffic at J13, and at 13:07 all the closures were confirmed as removed. At this point the travel media were updated for the final time and the electronic VMS warning approaching customers of the closure were removed. Local partners and stakeholders were also informed that the motorway had re-opened.
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