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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