Documentary series centred on the A1. A lorry breakdown causes rush-hour traffic chaos, and emergency response teams are called after collapsed power lines close the road.
Browse content similar to Episode 7. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The A1, Britain's longest road...
..stretching almost 400 miles from the City of London
to the heart of the Scottish capital...
..connecting two nations and passing through 18 counties.
It's an unrivalled highway,
used by hundreds of thousands of vehicles every day.
We're going southbound down the A1 on the northbound carriageway.
But not all journeys go to plan.
I thought, I'm going to lose my life.
The cars are coming close.
It is a dangerous place to be.
Lives can hang in the balance.
The rear end of that vehicle, it's unrecognisable.
This is actually the bodywork of the car.
24 hours a day...
It's not a safe place here.
..there's a team of people who keep us safe from harm.
We don't know whether we've got the road closed or we don't know what's happened.
..and traffic officers...
..keeping Britain's most iconic road...
..on the move.
Substantially damaged flatbed truck in lane two.
The A1, the monster that it is, will start to return to normal.
..a rush-hour breakdown puts lives on the line...
The effect of hitting a wagon at 40, 50, 60mph can be fatal.
..a deadly disruption
as a collapsed power line closes the A1...
The pole's either been struck by lightning
or it's been hit and it's collapsed.
Are police attending, I presume?
..and a stranded vehicle spells danger for traffic officers.
It's particularly narrow, this bit.
I'm not happy about being here myself, to be honest.
In the north-east of England, the A1 road connects Gateshead, Sunderland,
Durham and Newcastle,
making it a vital arterial route for tens of thousands of commuters.
Rush hour is always busy and any hold-up can become a major incident
It's six o'clock, and just outside Newcastle,
patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside is racing to the scene of the latest
incident on the southbound section of the motorway.
We've had a report of an articulated wagon broken down
in the middle lane of three.
It's looking like the brakes have locked on, on the trailer, which
is actually a common occurrence.
It's a fail-safe that HGVs have,
that if you have any issues with the braking system,
the brakes will lock on.
The priority in cases like this is to get there,
illuminate the scene as best as possible, to give advanced warning
to members of the public to slow down.
We're making our way down the A1 now.
Probably a couple of minutes away from the incident.
The truck is stranded in the middle of this busy motorway.
Traffic is travelling up to 70mph.
Alan's concerned there could be a major pile-up
and lives could be put at risk.
There may not be hazard lights at the top of the wagon so the truck
could be, to all intents and purposes, stationary,
but invisible to members of the public.
The effect of hitting a wagon at 40, 50, 60mph,
if it's stationary, can be fatal.
I'm going to have to start fighting through the traffic, here.
Members of the public, they've had a long day in the office
and this is a major inconvenience to them getting home.
Traffic officers are already on the scene,
warning drivers of the blockage.
Get some cones out and just cone it off.
The priority now is to make the area safe by sealing off the inside lane
so a recovery vehicle can gain access.
What we're hoping to happen by doing this,
we're going to be able to get up the near side of the wagon,
do some remedial repairs and get the vehicle moving,
so it might look like we're being a bit extreme but by doing this,
hopefully, the vehicle will be moving in the next few minutes.
If it doesn't work, it's going to be a big recovery.
Two lanes are now closed and hundreds of vehicles are caught up
in the tailbacks. It's frustrating for commuters, but a necessity.
Unfortunately, what we can't have is
a stranded vehicle in the middle lane
and have two lanes of vehicles moving either side of it.
I know people will think this is probably crazy.
We just can't have it, all right?
So people will be driving past going,
"What's wrong with the left-hand lane?"
People are going to be moving around this wagon to affect the repairs to
try and get the vehicle going.
We can't have cars driving past.
All it takes is one person, because naturally,
when people look to the right, the car goes to the right.
When people look to the left, the car goes to the left.
We can't afford that to be happening both sides of the wagon.
In this case, we've closed the slow lane and we're now going to be
working to try and get this wagon repaired.
Within just five minutes, the area is secure,
but the recovery vehicle is still half an hour away.
What we've got now is five, six miles of traffic building up behind.
What we need to do now is link in with the recovery firm and get that
wagon here as quickly as we possibly can to get this wagon moved,
because I used to like my rugby and I used to play at a reasonable level
but I couldn't push that! Definitely not.
Alan has done all he can to make the area safe.
-It couldn't happen at a worse place, worse time, could it?
-No, it's terrible.
Mechanical breakdown with a vehicle, best will in the world,
you just can't do anything with it.
But with stop-start traffic, the risk of a major accident
further north is growing with every second that passes.
Highways England and Transport Scotland deal with over
4,000 breakdowns every year and each one brings its own challenges.
Head south of Newcastle and the A1 takes drivers through the farming
fields of North Yorkshire to the coalfields of South Yorkshire,
where traffic officers Paul Day and Rob Larkin are on duty.
Got one on the hard shoulder, up here.
They're following up a report about
a broken-down car just past Doncaster.
It's an incident first dealt with by the night shift.
He's had a blowout. He's been given a reasonable time to get it sorted,
so we're going back to make sure that what he's said is right.
-And he's left.
Paul and Rob are hoping the car has long gone by now.
If he's still there, obviously we have to take
another course of action.
In the reasonable time that we've given him,
we expect him to have dealt with it and have gone.
And that reasonable time is sort of a standardised time limit
and it's two hours.
But the car hasn't moved and there's no sign of its driver.
I'll talk to him if he wants me to.
Until suddenly, he appears from across the fields.
I'll come and talk to you in a minute. Just give me a minute.
1-3, apologies, it's 16 over six Bravo A1M.
We've got the vehicle that should've been removed
that we got passed on from earlier.
Yeah, I'll just have a word with the driver but it is still in situ.
-They got it at ten to six.
So it's had a good three and a half hours.
He's had a long enough time to shift it, so he needs to be moving
or we need to know why it's still here.
Around 50 people are killed or severely injured in hard shoulder
accidents each year. This car is parked on a bend,
leaving other motorists less time to react.
It is particularly narrow, this bit.
It's known for getting a lot of accidents.
I'm not happy about being here myself, to be honest.
The driver, Bogdan,
explains he struggled to change the tyre himself.
He doesn't have breakdown cover but he has called a friend to come and help.
I wait for a friend to bring me a key to change the wheel.
I appreciate that, but you've been here three and a half hours.
-Where's your friend?
-Where? From where?
From Royston to here.
-Royston at Barnsley?
While Paul tries to trace Bogdan's friend, Rob needs to ensure
other drivers are aware of the hazard on the hard shoulder.
Where are you exactly?
You're eight miles from here?
-He's still at home.
-Still at home?
The fact his friend hasn't even left home is not good news for Bogdan.
He saying it's 15 minutes, but he's still at home.
Why is he still at home three hours after he should've been here?
I don't know, because don't find me.
So, has he come to here and gone back again?
-You can ask.
Yeah, I have but he's still at home. That's what I'm saying.
You're saying he's in Doncaster, and he's not.
No, because he's going in Doncaster,
don't find me, and I think he's going home.
It's not illegal to drive without breakdown cover, but Bogdan's
stranded car is posing a risk.
If he doesn't move it soon, Paul will call the recovery truck
and Bogdan will be landed with a hefty bill.
Nearly 110 miles north, near Newcastle, another
stationary vehicle is still proving a major concern for the police.
A lorry's brakes have seized up on the southbound side,
meaning two lanes have been closed.
A1 patrol officer PC Alan Keenleyside
is battling to get the motorway open as quickly as possible.
We've tried to reset the systems on this wagon.
Unfortunately, it's been unsuccessful.
We're going to have to arrange a recovery.
For 30 minutes, two lanes of the motorway have been closed.
There's already more than six miles of standing traffic.
The truck's driver is Joe Steele.
So, what's the crack, Joe? What's happened?
Stuck in traffic, coming up the hill.
And, obviously, it was moving slowly.
Next thing I know, the brakes lock on.
And, obviously, I just checked it over and it's not...
Great. Brakes on the trailer?
Brakes on the trailer. So it's just not ...
There's no pressure. You can hear the hissing coming from the front.
-So there's a leak somewhere.
And that's a fail-safe of the trailer, isn't it?
-So if you've got an issue,
they'll lock on, rather than not work.
-So the pressure actually keeps the brakes...
It locks it on when you start it up,
the pressure takes it off and when the pressure fails,
it actually locks the brakes on, doesn't it?
Yeah. Safety features.
Joe uses the A1 regularly,
transporting freight between the north-east and Yorkshire.
So he can sympathise with his fellow road users.
I'm frustrated for everyone else, so I find it very frustrating.
It's just causing... Causing chaos, you know.
I couldn't foresee it, otherwise I would've chosen lane one to be in,
so I wouldn't have caused so much trouble for everyone else.
The brakes have decided they don't want to play ball today.
So, you know, just unlucky.
Unlucky day. Unlucky day.
Finally though, after 45 minutes, the truck mechanic is on the scene.
-Hello, mate, you all right?
Just go on, you've got lane one to work in, as well,
so fill your boots, all right?
He can hear the engine revving.
He's trying to get the air in the system to build up pressure to
release the brakes. So by revving that engine,
it's going to get the air pressure up as quick as he can,
so this is the mechanic just triaging the wagon.
This is like what a doctor does in resus with a patient.
And this is what the mechanic's doing.
And you can hear the air coming out the front of the wagon, here,
so there's clearly an issue that may still require...
Even though the mechanic's here, it may still require recovery.
You can hear the air coming out of there.
That shouldn't be sounding like that.
It's not looking good...
..and tailbacks are growing with every second that passes.
But in situations like this,
light relief can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Terry the turtle.
Does it...? Does he get some smiles from kids and things?
Yeah, he does, yeah. Puts smiles on people's faces.
That's what it's all about, isn't it?
-What it's about.
-Bit of cheekiness.
But, today, it's the mechanic who's putting smiles on faces.
He's managed to patch up the brakes, meaning the truck can leave the A1.
Happy with that, all right? No worries, at all. I'll follow you up.
Yeah, I'll follow you up, all right? Just in case there's an issue.
But get into this lane straightaway, all right? Right, lads!
And Alan and the other traffic officers can reopen the road.
A1's back open, my colleagues in the Highways Agency have just lifted
that now, so cars should be starting to come past here.
Again, it will be getting up to around 40, 50mph.
I would imagine, however,
we're going to be looking at the best part of 40 minutes, 45 minutes,
until the backlog starts to work its way through.
This is where it gets quite frustrating for members of the
public because they're sitting in a traffic jam and all of a sudden,
they get there and there's nothing apparent.
It's just that residual traffic that we need to start moving
through the scene to get going again.
Alan escorts the lorry to some local services for further checks.
This is actually a truck stop,
so the driver will spend the night here.
He's actually gone out of hours as a result of this breakdown.
And he's now due a 15-hour lay down overnight.
So this is him parking up.
This will be his bedroom for the next 15 hours.
Despite rush-hour delays for commuters,
Alan has helped get this stretch of the A1 moving again
without any serious incidents.
There's a lot of wagons, there's a lot of commercial vehicles
on the road, and these vehicles are on the road all the time.
If they develop a fault, an HGV driver's generally got
sufficient power to get that vehicle off the road.
If the driver can't get off the road,
he'll just end up stopping in a live lane.
It's pretty rare. So when it happens, it does test us.
We've got to get there quickly, we've got to make it safe.
And, yeah, sometimes, we've got to think outside the box a little bit
to get the issue rectified.
The A1 near Washington is a three-lane stretch of motorway
and as the stranded HGV proved, hold-ups can cause big delays.
In the Newcastle CCTV control room, Ian Lee is the man responsible for
keeping traffic flowing along a 130-mile stretch of the A1
between North Yorkshire and the Scottish border.
Adam, can you drop that camera for us?
It's now October and it's the Friday before half-term,
so the A1 will soon be busy with people heading out on holiday.
Yeah, we have in excess of 60, 70 cameras that cover the A1,
predominantly around the A1 western bypass.
You know, there's a nice one with the Angel Of The North
in the background. That's an accident blackspot.
Blaydon Bridge, that crosses the Tyne.
There's no hard shoulder on the bridge.
So when something does break down,
traffic does start coming to a standstill really quickly.
So far, apart from the odd breakdown, it's been a quiet shift.
I'll get two to go to the other one.
And then we'll sort it out from there, mate.
It's a bit of an average day.
We're not having anything overstretched.
But, to be honest, within five minutes, that could soon change.
And just minutes later, Ian's prediction comes true.
NCC, you're speaking to Adam.
Reports are coming in that live electricity cables have fallen onto
the carriageway, blocking the road.
It's a ScottishPower cable.
It's attached to a pole going across the A1.
And the pole's either been struck by lightning or it's been hit
and it's collapsed and the cable's across the floor.
Are police attending, I presume?
We don't know whether they've got the road closed, or...
We don't know what's happened.
It's potentially a very dangerous situation,
and it could hardly have happened in a worse location.
The actual incident is within this section.
It's single carriageway up at Berwick.
There's very little dual carriageway up there.
So it does have potential to cause disruption to a lot of traffic.
And the timing's also going to cause issues.
It's Friday, before the half-term, so we are getting the...
It's historically the last week of caravanning,
so we will have a lot of people travelling for long weekends.
Probably in the next two hours,
the traffic flows will be picking up in that area.
So we'll hopefully be looking to resolve this
within the next couple of hours.
With one of the major roads between England and Scotland closed,
it's a serious accident and Ian needs to head to the scene.
Kelvin, is ScottishPower at scene at the minute, over?
In Berwick, the road is closed in both directions.
Traffic is being sent on a five-mile diversion.
1-1, I'm now at scene, I'm going to be liaising with contractors, over.
-I'll await your update.
Right, John, I understand the cables have gone down, is that right?
-This is what's happened.
-Pole's snapped right at the top.
There's obviously been a problem up here with one of these dishes.
-It's burnt away.
And it's been trying to track down the pole.
What it's done is it's hit the weakest point
and the pole's snapped.
Right, got you.
But with the cables suspended,
Ian's struggling to grasp why the A1 cannot be reopened.
Sorry, just for my ignorance, I suppose,
this vehicle's doing what at the minute?
It's holding up this line.
-Once we release the tension on these conductors...
-..there's nothing holding that line up.
-Oh, sorry, that way.
-Got you. Right.
So from post, that way. Right.
-So is that the way you can only...
-That must stay there.
-And there's no other way you can...
There's no way the road can open until the work is complete.
Right, so, the question's been asked just from my hierarchy down south,
is can we get this open in the near future?
Right. I've already discussed it with the guys down the bottom there.
I would be reluctant to let traffic come through here.
The road has already been closed for three and a half hours
and it's now approaching tea-time on a half-term weekend.
But there's nothing Ian can do but wait.
Six counties away near Doncaster,
two traffic officers also have a problem to deal with.
A car has been sat on the hard shoulder of this busy stretch for
three hours and Paul Day and Rob Larkin need it shifting.
I've phoned your friend, he says he's 15 minutes away, which is fine.
But because you've had over the time that they've given you...
-..what I'm going to do,
is I'm going to start our removal process going.
It won't matter to you, it just means that they're running
and if he can't find you or something else goes wrong,
this can't stay here any longer.
-So what they'll do,
they'll come and they'll remove the car from the side of the motorway.
Safest place, which is the next junction.
And that will be a cost, OK?
The driver, Bogdan, has been waiting for his friend to come and rescue
him ever since his tyre blew out. But his friend hasn't shown up.
He's called somebody and they're basically...
He's saying that they can't find him.
So he's gone to a house up here
to then use their phone to call him again.
I've rung him again and he's saying he's eight miles away.
This lad's saying he's in Royston, which is eight miles away.
So what I think we do, is we get start rolling, regardless...
..and we give it 15 minutes.
I think that's the safest way.
Yeah. Well, he's had his time, hasn't he?
-He's had three hours. He's had three and a half hours.
Although hard shoulders can be used for emergencies,
they're not the safest place to stop.
Dozens of people are killed
or seriously injured on them every year.
And now Paul has spotted something that makes this incident
even more dangerous. Bogdan's wife is still in the car.
Has your wife got a warm coat?
Yes, blanket from her sister.
Right, she needs to get out of the car,
because if any of these come across here and hit that car,
-there will be trouble, all right?
Highways England's advice is always to stand away from your vehicle
in event of a breakdown, whatever the weather.
Keep watching traffic, because it's dangerous, all right?
Doreen was on her way to an interview,
an interview she will now miss.
I'm OK. I'm a little disappointed
because I didn't get to the interview.
I will send them an e-mail when I get home.
It was for team manager, the interview.
Yes, I am pretty sad about it because it was a good job.
We will see.
If the couple don't shift the car soon,
a removal truck will move it for them and it will cost £150.
But just as Bogdan is starting to give up hope about his friend showing up...
This could be him. The guy on the bridge.
You need to tell this fella how to get here.
..he appears, albeit in the wrong place.
Luckily, Rob knows a quick route down and soon the elusive friend
can get to work, with a bit of help from Paul.
Don't lift it any higher than that.
Take them nuts out, and then hit it.
Because I don't think that wheel will come off.
I think the wheel will be stuck on, because it's absolutely solid, that.
Because them wheel nuts were so tight, the alloy's fused to the hub.
It oxidises and it causes a really tight seal.
It happens a lot.
I don't want it too high, because he's got to get that wheel off.
The wheel is fixed, and all's well that, after three and a half hours,
finally ends well.
I'm now happy because everything is OK.
And there's just some time for some friendly advice from Paul.
If you ever need it again,
you need to use the emergency phones at the side of the road.
They tell you, tell us, exactly where you are,
and you can talk to us.
Then our control room could have put you through to your friend
and patched you in, and it would have been resolved on the phone.
Yeah? All right?
So just keep that in mind when you are travelling up and down.
Thank you, thank you.
OK, hope your job goes OK.
And thanks to the traffic officers,
Bogdan and his wife, Doreen, are back on the road.
Keeping the A1 safe and moving at all times of the day is a priority
for any traffic incident supervisor.
Nearly 180 miles north in Berwick, though,
network manager Ian Lee has a huge problem.
On this stretch of single carriageway,
the A1 has been completely closed
for four hours after a power cable fell on the road.
-Problems currently on the A1 at Berwick,
they've closed the A1 there.
All traffic having to divert through Berwick.
Ian is battling to get the road reopened,
because busy half-term traffic is mounting up.
-In terms of the incident, I know you're at the scene,
have you got any other update?
I can give you an update. I've been here literally ten minutes.
I've spoke to SP Energy, who are the contractors for this area.
There's now no cables at all on the A1,
but what we do have is a four-wheel drive vehicle keeping the tension on
the existing three cables that are crossing,
that go to things like customers' houses, etc, etc.
This tension can't be released.
Is that work planned to take the next eight hours, Ian,
in terms of getting those works done?
At the minute all he's given us is that original time slot.
I suspect he gave me one of them looks as if to say,
"If you stop talking to us,
"I'll get it done quicker as well," but, erm...
There's nothing more Ian can do
than wait while the engineers try to fix the lines.
Over the top far side now.
So the road has been shut for quite some time now.
The original incident came in around 20 to one this afternoon.
It's now 25 to seven, so we're still looking at
probably about half past ten,
11 o'clock reopening time.
With the damaged pole and cables already being replaced,
the engineers are making better progress than expected.
Contractor John finally has some encouraging news for Ian.
If all is good, I don't want to...
Oh, go on, excite us, mate.
If all is good...
-That will do for us.
Might get back for a last gin and tonic.
Two hours on, John has proved as good as his word.
The repairs are now complete.
Now Ian needs to get the road moving once more.
The incident support, they will go down to the bottom closure now.
As soon as we make sure that the southbound is clear,
they will open that and we will also strip back the northbound
and then the road will be fully open.
You know, three hours ahead of schedule
is an absolute bonus for us.
For Ian, it's been a successful end to a tough day...
..and he might even get home for that drink after all.
After limping to the services, the lorry's brakes were eventually fixed
and driver Jo was able to get back on the A1
and continue his deliveries.