In a move to dramatically reduce delays for drivers on its network, Highways England (HE) has introduced an innovative all-in-one response vehicle that can stop and direct motorway traffic after incidents, then clean up spillages and repair the road afterwards.
Taking to HE’s strategic road network (SRN) for the first time, the vehicle combines the expertise, knowledge and equipment of both a traffic officer and incident support staff who deal with clean-ups and road repairs. The new enhanced customer response unit (ECRU), which is being trialed in the West Midlands region from July, will save time and money and reduce hold-ups for motorists. In a unique new collaboration, the vehicle will be manned by both HE’s traffic officers and incident support staff from highways contractor Kier. The first of its kind to be launched in the UK and operated this way, the ECRU will help the agency manage and clear incidents more efficiently and effectively.
Due to begin operations from July 1, the vehicle was inspired by similar technologies used on the Australian road network. Unveiled this week, the new unit is the first of five ECRU vehicles set to take part in the trial in the West Midlands. Fulfilling the role of a traffic officer vehicle, the ECRU is very visible with warning beacons and electronic message signs. The unit can also carry more emergency traffic management equipment than HE’s regular vehicles, including bigger signs and more cones, offering safer conditions for those working at incident scenes.
In order to give added protection to road workers and road users, a crash cushion is mounted on the back of the ECRU, absorbing the impact from moving vehicles if struck. Until now Kier teams have been called out separately to deal with the aftermath of incidents. However, the ECRU has an on-board sweeper that can be used to clear larger areas of highway that have previously been cleared by hand, as well as a pressure washer that distributes water and ‘Fuel Safe’ additives, treating oil and fuel spillages more swiftly and reducing the need to resurface carriageways.
“We are continually striving to develop new ways and innovations that will help keep our road network clear and traffic moving,” explained HE’s corporate group leader, Martin Bolt. “By combining services in one vehicle we can deal with incidents and issues more quickly. Working with our partners Kier we have been able to take huge strides in ensuring smoother, safer journeys for all road users.”
Scott Cooper, managing director of strategic highways at Kier, commented, “Having one innovation performing a range of tasks will allow us to respond to incidents quicker, inevitably saving time for our customers. Jointly occupying the vehicle demonstrates our continued commitment to working collaboratively to improve efficiencies and achieve the best results for both road users and workers.”
The ECRU is the latest in a string of innovations that HE has deployed on its road network recently, which include:
- Two 70 feet long 16-tonne mobile protection barriers from the USA that are keeping road workers and motorists safe, cutting delays by reducing the number of cones needed.
- Trialing new self-driving dump trucks that could help speed up roadworks and reduce the risk of workers being involved in on-site incidents.
Rear image credit: Derbyshire Live