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Operation Brock implementation needed, FTA says


Monday, 01 April 2019

Freight Transport Association says it is better to get the system in place and tested in good time, rather than during a full-blown disruption


The UK’s Freight Transport Association has backed the decision to implementation the UK’s Brexit road freight congestion contingency plan Operation Brock this week despite the delay now to the UK’s earliest departure date from the EU from 29 March to 12 April.

As reported, Operation Brock – a set of measures to keep the M20 motorway open in both directions between junctions 8 and 9 in the event of disruption to services across the English Channel, by using different holding areas – was put in place on 25 March ahead of anticipated lorry congestion on the major roads leading to and from the UK’s key cross-Channel crossing points of the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) questioned why UK roads agency Highways England had implemented the Operation Brock road freight vehicle-management contraflow system two weeks earlier than needed, given that the EU had offered the UK an extension to its original planned departure date of 29 March until at least 12 April.

However, Heidi Skinner, policy manager for the south-east at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), said it was better to get the system in place and tested for problems ahead of any potential major disruptions, rather than doing it during a full-blown disruption situation. And although the delay to the UK’s earliest departure date to 12 April meant that in theory the implementation of the plan could have been delayed for a week, she acknowledged that it took some time to get the infrastructure in place, noting: “We need to have something in place for a no-deal Brexit, and potentially that could be 12 April.”

Lloyd’s Loading List understands that the plan is to leave the Operation Brock road scheme infrastructure in place for six months, although Highways England said that if it is deemed that Operation Brock is unlikely to be required in the following weeks, three lanes in each direction could be restored with a 50mph (80 km/h) limit, compared with the 30mph limit currently. Lloyd’s Loading List understands that it took Highways England several weeks to erect the steel barriers needed to delineate the contraflow.

“The deployment will help to demonstrate Kent’s preparedness for disruption and allow the contraflow to be in place for any traffic disruption in the coming weeks,” Highways England said. “Three lanes in each direction could be restored, with a 50mph limit, if Operation Brock is assessed as unlikely to be required in the following weeks.”

Highways England has said that the current deployment of Operation Brock is not a test, in the sense that it will now continue to be in effect until further notice.

However, Skinner explained that although the infrastructure would now remain in place for the next six months, Operation Brock is not yet active in the sense of vehicles being held or diverted via the traffic-light system that would bring into play the other phases of the operation, as would happen in a major disruption.

Nevertheless, vehicles are now understood to be subject to 30mph speed limits within area of the M20 motorway between junctions 8 and 9.

In general, the FTA gave a cautious welcome to the implementation of Operation Brock, on the basis that it showed some understanding of the potential for significant road freight backlogs in the event of a no-deal or disorderly Brexit, but said a number of questions remained. A spokesperson told Lloyd’s Loading List: “FTA has worked closely with Highways England and the Department of Transport on the planning for Operation Brock and is hopeful that the scheme does not have a detrimental impact on traffic movements across Kent and to and from the Channel Ports – and, most importantly, it must not be viewed as a long term solution. 

“What the implementation of the scheme highlights is the calamitous lack of long-term parking options for lorries across Kent and the South East, something which FTA has been pressing government on for some time. With the possibility of long-term delays caused by a no-deal Brexit and the increased red tape this will bring, freight operators must have safe, secure parking options for their drivers.”

The Operation Brock plan has been a key plank in efforts to prepare for potential no-deal Brexit disruption to road freight vehicles and will supplement ‘Operation Stack’, which has been used up until now to cope with long lines of road freight traffic on the UK side of the Channel, when services are disrupted.

“Traditionally, when there has been severe disruption to cross-channel services, sections of the M20 have been closed and used to queue HGVs heading for mainland Europe, under arrangements known as Operation Stack,” Highways England noted. “In November 2017 the government announced that, alongside ongoing work to find a permanent solution for Operation Stack, Highways England would take forward interim alternatives for Operation Stack that could be ready for use in March 2019, and that, crucially, would keep the M20 open in both directions.

“Operation Brock will be available as an extra tool for managing disruption in Kent. Operation Brock queues lorries bound for mainland Europe on the coastbound M20 and uses a contraflow on the London-bound carriageway to enable other traffic to travel in both directions.”

Under the new arrangements, in addition to the M20 contraflow lorries can be routed to Manston Airfield and, if needed, the M26 motorway can be closed and used to queue HGVs too, Highways England added.

Highways England (HE) project director John Kerner said: “Since Operation Stack’s 32-day deployment in summer 2015, we have been working with our partners across Kent to make the county more resilient to disruption than ever before. Operation Brock strengthens this resilience even further and offers a safe, scalable response to disruption that can be used to queue up to 11,000 lorries heading for mainland Europe, while keeping other traffic flowing for people living, working and travelling in and around Kent.”

Since 25 March, the M20 contraflow has been in effect from north of Junction 8 to Junction 9, with lorries heading for mainland Europe routed down the coastbound carriageway, with a 30mph speed limit in place. All other traffic will be directed onto the London-bound carriageway, with two lanes in each direction operating at 50mph.

Explaining the arrangements in more detail, HE noted that Operation Brock “has stages that can be deployed sequentially, scaling up or down to meet demand. This is how Operation Brock will work: in recent years there have already been significant improvements to the holding capacity in the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, as well as the A20 on approach to the port, where peaks of traffic arriving at the Port of Dover can be managed by traffic lights toward the end of the dual carriageway.

“If this increased capacity looks set to be reached, Highways England can activate a contraflow on the M20 between junctions 8 and 9. Lorries bound for mainland Europe will be queued on the coastbound carriageway, with cars using a clearly signed contraflow on the London-bound carriageway. If the M20 becomes full, lorries heading for the Port of Dover will be directed to Manston Airfield, while the M20 is used to hold traffic for Eurotunnel. Traffic lights on the A256 will help to manage traffic arriving at the port from Manston, similar to the existing system on the A20.

“If the M20 holding area becomes full after Manston airfield has been activated, the coastbound M26 could additionally be used to hold lorries heading for the Eurotunnel terminal. Lorries would move through the queue in sequence and would be released from the front of the queue as soon as there is capacity in the port and tunnel terminals.”

HE noted that instructions for lorry drivers “will be clearly signed, well managed and monitored at every step”, adding: “The holding areas are all temporary and will be stood down as soon as they are no longer needed. They will be safe and secure with appropriate welfare facilities and access for emergency services throughout.”

It said the queuing system only applies to drivers of lorries heading to mainland Europe from Kent. All other drivers should check conditions before setting out and, if they are crossing the channel, check with their service operator for updates.

“The arrangements offer a significant improvement to Operation Stack and, crucially, keep the M20 motorway open to traffic in both directions in all but the most extreme circumstances,” HE claimed.

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