Wednesday, January 21, 2015

M25 Thames Crossing Point to Launch Automatic Safety Systems for Freight Trucks

Dartford Will See HGV Heights and Hazards Identified and Managed Remotely
Shipping News Feature

UK – Since it launched on November 30 last year, the new Dart Charge has already helped to speed up journeys by removing the need to stop at a barrier to pay the Dartford Crossing charge, averaging around four minutes quicker for journeys northbound (via the tunnels) and nine minutes southbound (across the QE ll bridge) helping both freight and private vehicles pass under or over the Thames on their way round the M25 motorway. With the toll booths scrapped at the Crossing, the Highways Agency has now unveiled a new safety system it plans to implement to identify and manage over height trucks and haulage vehicles carrying dangerous loads before they enter the tunnel, a job that had previously been carried out at the payment barriers.

All major tunnels have rules about what substances can be taken through them and the Dartford tunnels are no exception. Vehicles carrying some of these substances may require an escort though the tunnels; some others may be prohibited altogether and need to find an alternative route. In addition, the two tunnels at the Dartford Crossing are slightly different sizes, having been opened almost 20 years apart. Vehicles more than 4.8 metres high can only use the eastern tunnel, and vehicles more than 5 metres high cannot use the tunnels at all. To date, over-sized and dangerous goods vehicles have been managed by the barriers at the old payment booths. However, with the introduction of Dart Charge and the ongoing removal of the payment booths a new method of stopping these vehicles from entering the tunnels is needed.

The new safety system will use various detectors to identify the vehicles, signs to encourage drivers to get into the correct lane in good time, and barriers and traffic signals to control them - bringing them to a safe stop and turning them around if necessary. An interesting feature is that the new system can identify not only over height trucks, a relatively simple technology, but those bearing orange ADR plates, something only possible previously by manual observation.

The Highways Agency says that lanes at the side of the main carriageway will enable these diversions to be done quickly and efficiently, minimising delays for other drivers. The system has been extensively tested over the last six months at a disused airfield using vehicles from a local haulage company. Highways Agency Project Director Nigel Gray said:

“With Dart Charge, drivers no longer stop at a barrier to pay the crossing charge, speeding up journeys and reducing congestion. But the barriers are also the point at which we have identified and managed dangerous loads and oversized vehicles, so now we need a new approach. This system has been extensively tested and will be able to do the job effectively, and without requiring every driver to stop. It is a big part of fully realising the benefits that Dart Charge is already bringing.”

Construction of the new system of traffic signals and barriers on the northbound carriageway will begin in late January and is due to be completed by early April. While the new system is in the process of being installed, the re-configured booths and barriers will be used to manage northbound over-sized and dangerous goods vehicles. The Highways Agency hopes that journey times will continue to improve further once the old barriers are fully removed and the new system in place, however there has still been an improvement.

Erwan Huerre, Transition Director for Connect Plus, the Highways Agency’s main service provider for the whole M25 and the company that will be carrying out the construction work associated with the project, said:

“Our construction work will be ongoing whilst we build the new tunnel safety system, consisting of new signals and barriers. It is important to remember that these barriers will be in the ‘open’ position most of the time, and will only need to be used when a non-compliant vehicle is detected. To maximise the effectiveness of the new system, drivers, in particular HGV drivers, are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the future layout.”

The new system is designed to detect whether a vehicle is too tall, wide or long to enter the tunnels or whether it is carrying hazardous goods which means it is proscribed from entering the tunnels or needs to be escorted. The sensors will trigger a system of traffic signals and barriers that will stop the vehicle and it has been designed to ensure that when a vehicle needs to be diverted away from the tunnels it is done in a way that causes the minimum disruption and delay to all drivers using the northbound carriageway.

Turning back any vehicle will inevitably cause some delay to other road users but is essential for the safety of all road users. The Highways Agency says that it wants to ensure this happens as rarely as possible and is working with partners such as the Freight Transport Association (FTA), the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and other organisations, including those representing overseas haulage companies, to promote the tunnel height and other restrictions at Dartford to ensure drivers comply with them.

Photo: Over height vehicles will be automatically detected and managed.