New vehicle to improve safety and reduce disruption on England’s motorways

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Highways England (HE) has been trialling a new vehicle to help replace and repair overhead signs, which is set to reduce the duration of roadworks and could save the taxpayer up to £4m (US$5.8m) a year.

HE’s new Maintenance Assistance Vehicle (MAV) is based on the design of an aircraft catering vehicle, which loads refreshments into airplanes using a hydraulic scissor lift. The MAV has been successfully trialled on the agency’s road network, enabling road workers to shut fewer lanes and deliver better journeys for drivers on routes where the work is taking place.

Traditionally, signs are taken down and installed using a flat-bed truck, crane and cherry picker, which can take up to 40 minutes. However, the MAV can do this in around 20 to 25 minutes by using a small jib crane that is part of the vehicle. The vehicle also provides a safer environment for road workers while they work inside the vehicle, and on a sturdy platform while they work outside it.

Once the platform is raised to a sufficient height, the jib crane carefully attaches to the sign on the gantry, and lifts it off. The operatives then detach the sign, place it onto a trolley on the platform and wheel it into the main compartment of the vehicle. The procedure is reversed when installing a new sign.

The hydraulically powered scissor lift enables the signs, which are often found on smart motorway gantries, to be serviced at heights of up to 28ft (8.5m) and in wind speeds of up to 47mph (75km/h). Furthermore, its CCTV cameras, which play a critical safety role, enable the driver to park the vehicle exactly below the gantry before any maintenance takes place, and monitors the operatives at the back while they work. During the initial trials of the MAV, a full carriageway closure was implemented to see how the vehicle performed. However, HE believes there is scope to explore leaving some lanes open while work takes place, to further reduce disruption, while ensuring safety is not compromised. The agency is currently examining the best way for its contractors to purchase the machines, and HE estimates that if the MAV were widely adopted across its network it could save £4m a year. Consideration is also being given as to whether it could be used to improve safety for other duties on England’s motorways and major A roads.

“Safety is our top priority and we believe no one should be harmed when traveling or working on our network,” noted Jeremy Bird, head of health and safety for HE. “Technology has an important role in improving road worker and road user safety, and this concept provides an opportunity not only to do this, but at the same time to reduce disruption on our roads by completing gantry maintenance in less time and reducing the number of lanes closed to carry out such a task.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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