Keeping our motorways on the move - all from Leeds

Patrol officers, Kirsty Free and Adam Turner.
Patrol officers, Kirsty Free and Adam Turner.
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From baby pigs running amok on one of the busiest motorways in the country and severed hands being spotted in the fast lane to scenes of devastation and death. Never was the saying ‘no two days at work are the same’ so apt.

But it is all in an eight and a half hour shift for the teams at Highways England.

Adam Turner at the wheel and ready for action on the roads.

Adam Turner at the wheel and ready for action on the roads.

They patrol the main road networks on behalf of the government from Cornwall to Northumberland under the helms of seven regional centres - one of which is in West Yorkshire.

From the base, off junction 39 of the M1, a control team are responding to live and incoming incidents and, in turn, a team of patrol officers and specialist vehicles are out on the roads dealing with them.

The control room is dominated by huge screens showing live CCTV footage being captured from the network covered by the Yorkshire team where call handlers can spot incidents unfolding from a simple breakdown to a serious crash. Other calls come in via the police and other emergency services or the SOS phones.

The remit for the Leeds-based team is from the M1 at junction 30 to the A1 at Scotch Corner, the M62 to junction 22, the A63 to Hull Docks, M180, A64 to York, the A628, A66, A69 and the A19 up to Middlesbrough.

Highways England footage of the lorry fire on the M62 earlier this month which led to hours of delays for weekend motorists.

Highways England footage of the lorry fire on the M62 earlier this month which led to hours of delays for weekend motorists.

This includes the highest motorway point in England with Saddleworth Moor on the M62 and the busiest motorway in England in terms of incidents with the M1.

Duty manager Dave Skupski gave the Yorkshire Evening Post exclusive access to a day in the life of a Highways England officer.

He said: “The key things we deal with on a day to day basis are debris - if it travels on our network at some point it will probably fall off and we have to go and pick it up - broken down vehicles and collisions, animals and people.
“The weather has a big impact. We have just come through a period of severe weather, that was really challenging and we had a lot of incidents.”

In such situations the control team can set the signs on the motorways advising of lane closures, temporary speed reductions and warnings about debris or accidents. They can even set the signs in the neighbouring regions to notify motorists on longer journeys of incidents.

If necessary they will dispatch patrol teams who are out on the road and also faced with the good and bad sides of motoring - plus a few surprises.

Reports of a severed hand on the central reservation turned out to be part of a shop mannequin, and the public were enthralled on social media by the reported exploits of a pesky pig.

Mr Skupski said: “One of the strangest incidents that sticks in my mind was that pig incident about 12 months ago. We had some early reports about a pig on the motorway but couldn’t find him then got later reports this pig was running amok on the M62.
“We worked with the police and set up rolling road blocks and a police dog handler eventually managed to catch him and returned him safely to his owner.
“We do have to deal with more serious incidents and anything involving children is always difficult. I have worked here 10 years and seen a lot of incidents and the worst ones are involving mini buses - it involves a lot of people and is a big operation.”

In situations such as that, the police take the lead on handling large scale incidents and there are still misconceptions with regard to the different roles the police and highways officers play.

Adam Turner became a highways officer after having occupied previous traffic management roles with Northern Gas and BT.

He said: “The job might be the same in that it is a breakdown but they are different because people are different. If it is a minor incident the police will let us deal with it but we can’t deal with crime or investigation.
“Police powers are different to ours; we have procedures and have to abide by the law and if the speed limit has been set to 40mph - we have to travel to that.
“But once the police have gone and are leaving us to finish an incident you can see how the public reaction changes. You get compliance with blue lights but with amber - that is when the abuse can start.
“On the flip side, though, people are overwhelmed by help and don’t realise what we do but you can see the relief when we turn up.”