What did we Learn from the Operation Brock Rehearsal?
Operation Brock is the planned traffic management system orchestrated by Highways England, which hopes to offer a temporary solution to lorry queuing and traffic flow in and around the Port of Dover, should Britain face a no-deal Brexit.
Using a combination of a Contraflow System, a series of separate lanes and docking stations, they hope to minimise the level of congestion caused by queuing HGVs trying to enter and leave the port.
Brock replaces Operation Stack, the current road management scheme which controls traffic when services across the channel are disrupted.
What is Operation Brock for?
Operation Brock’s overall aim is to find an alternate solution to where HGV vehicles can park during times when the Port of Dover has reached capacity, whilst also keeping the roads free for other road users.
In accordance with Operation Stack’s existing solution, the M20 between Junction 9 and 11 is blocked off in both directions to serve as a temporary holding zone for all HGV’s trying to reach Dover, most notably during the 2015 Dover Delays.
This has led to a number of problems including traffic jams and road accidents. Brock aims to find a longer term solution, should the need for one arise.
As a result, a search is underway for an appropriate site with the capacity to park all waiting vehicles until they can make their way to Dover to be processed prior to departure, whilst keeping traffic flow as normal as possible.
Currently, the disused Manston Airport is under consideration.
What was ‘The Rehearsal’?
On the 7th January, 150 lorries were drafted in to test the suitability of using the local Manston Airport as a holding zone for up to 6,000 vehicles before they entered the port.
The plan was for four convoys to leave the airfield at intervals between 8:13 and 8:39, with a second test being undertaken at 11:00.
They were to be directed by officials from the Department for Transport, Kent County Council and police officers along the A356 to Dover.
The route included a loop around the Eastern Docks roundabout, Jubilee Way and straight back to the airport, before undertaking the route again in time for the second test.
Was ‘The Rehearsal’ a success?
Whilst ‘The Rehearsal’ mostly went to plan, there were a few aspects officials hadn’t planned for.
The scheme was officially announced on the 4th January and as a result, according to staff at a local McDonalds in the area, many road users stayed away to avoid the traffic.
Because of this, the roads were ‘exceptionally quiet’ during rush hour.
"Everyone knew this was happening, so stayed away. It’s been very quiet,"
stated one worker.
In addition (for reasons unknown) over 40% of the requested drivers did not turn up on the morning of ‘The Rehearsal’, reducing the number of vehicles down to 89 instead of the intended 150.
Despite the shortage the rehearsal continued, with the first convoy of trucks reaching Dover by 08:52 am.
The operation was met with mixed reactions. Most lorry drivers reported there had been ‘no problems whatsoever’ on their return to Manston Airfield, however, others were not as enthusiastic. One driver regarded the event as
"a waste of time… At the end of the day what will be, will be."
According to officials, the Department of Transport stated that the operation went well and traffic ran smoothly.
What can we learn from ‘The Rehearsal’?
Toby Howe, from Kent City Council, responded to backlash that the campaign was too small, claiming the volume of vehicles taking part was not the purpose of the scheme.
"What we want to know is how quickly they (the vehicles) can actually get out of the airport behind us and how quickly they will get to various points… so whether it’s 10 lorries, 20 lorries, 100 lorries, that will give us enough information and will give the Department for Transport enough information to then learn from that."
In accordance with the outlined aims, as far as we can tell ‘The Rehearsal’ was a success in terms of assessing the suitability of Manston Airport as a holding zone.
Other aspects, such as the subsequent level of congestion in the surrounding area can only be assessed when the actual traffic takes to the roads, an event which officials hope will not happen, should the government reach an agreement, both within parliament and the EU.
What are the future plans of Operation Brock?
Work remains underway to find a suitable location for the truck park, with Manston Airfield proving to be a strong contender.
Should a no-deal Brexit occur, work will immediately begin to construct steel barriers along the 13 mile stretch of the M20, between Junctions 8 (Maidstone) and 9 (Ashtone), permanently separating the coast bound lanes from the rest of the motorway for HGV access.
This will mark the beginning of the implementation of a contraflow system, with access to the middle lane available for emergency vehicles.
The barriers will also act as a safety measure for ‘normal’ road users, preventing accidents and delays for those travelling in non-commercial vehicles.
What do we want from Operation Brock?
Both the authorities and drivers want to avoid a repeat of the Dover delays of 2015. The long queues and delays cost the hauliers more than £700,000 a day and £250 million to the UK economy.
According to Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Freight Transport Association, Heidi Skinner, the main priority of Operation Brock is to prevent traffic from reaching a similar standstill. She stated:
"This could mean trucks moving as slow as 30mph, but the government has expressed that the most important thing is to keep the traffic moving."