A few weeks after news of its trials with driverless trucks and mobile barrier lorries, comes news of two more innovations: an all-in-one emergency response vehicle, and its first electric powered roadworks vehicles.
The all-in-one response vehicle is designed for stopping and directing motorway traffic after incidents – then clean up spillages and repair the road afterwards. The purpose is to reduce delays for drivers.
Five of the new Enhanced Customer Response Units (ECRUs) are being trialled in the West Midlands from July, manned by both Highways England traffic officers and incident support staff from contractor Kier. Until now Kier teams have been called out separately to deal with the aftermath of incidents.
The ECRU was inspired by similar technologies used in Australia. It has an on-board sweeper that can clear larger areas that have previously been cleared by hand as well as a pressure washer that distributes water and Fuel Safe, treating oil and fuel spillages more swiftly and reducing the need to resurface carriageways.
Scott Cooper, Kier’s managing director strategic highways, said: “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.”
Elsewhere, two fully electric powered roadworks vehicles are being trialled by Highways England for the first time – one across the East Midlands and the other on the A14 improvement scheme in the East of England.
This trial is part of a package of air quality measures unveiled by Highways England to improve air quality along its road network. Further measures include a barrier to be installed alongside the M1 in South Yorkshire to help improve air quality for the local community and installing more electric charge points on or near the motorway network.
The five-month trial of the electric roadworks vehicles is being funded from the company’s £75m ring fenced fund designated for air quality improvements.
Highways England team leader Martin Bolt said: “We are actively exploring opportunities to improve air quality for those travelling on or living near our roads as well as reduce exposure for road workers. These vehicles help with that and also reduce noise for nearby residents. We are now investigating how widely electric vehicles could sustainably be used across Highways England’s roads.”
Highways England is working with HW Martin (Traffic Management) to trial the vehicles, which are being used for various tasks including traffic management, maintenance operations, and the installation and removal of lane closures for construction work. A team from the University of Bath is collecting data to determine to what activities the electric vehicles are best suited.
Ryan Wood, technical manager at HW Martin, said: "These two fully electric vehicles are the first of their kind to be used for roadworks on England’s motorway and major A roads. Undertaking these trials will allow us to understand first-hand how the vehicles perform while carrying out different tasks and how current charging infrastructure provides a network for their use. Not only are we understanding the real-world performance of the vehicle but also how our drivers adapt their behaviour. This study allows us to continue moving our industry towards a more sustainable future.”
The electric traffic management vehicle trial is running between April and August. This will be followed by a post-trial report, the results of which will inform future work around assessing how charging infrastructures are deployed for major projects and looking at the future potential for using electric roadworks vehicles.
These are the latest in a series of innovations that has been lined up for the Highways England road network recently.
Last month we reported on Kier’s introduction of two 70ft-long mobile barrier lorries which were originally designed for military use to protect against roadside bombs but are now keeping road workers and motorists safe. In collaboration with Kier, the 16-tonne roadworker protection barriers have been brought over from the USA and launched in the West Midlands, protecting workers on site as well as cutting delays by reducing the number of cones needed. [Pictured below.]