Balfour Beatty’s traffic management operatives got the chance to try their new vehicle before it was built, as Margo Cole reports.
Specialist construction and maintenance equipment doesn’t come cheap, so it’s often difficult to find the right time to make the investment needed to upgrade. For Balfour Beatty’s regional civil engineering (BBRCE) business, that opportunity came when it landed a seven-year contract to maintain the motorway and dual carriageway network around Glasgow for Connect Roads.
“When we won the new contract we made a commitment that we would buy a new traffic management (TM) machine,” explains BBRCE network manager for highway maintenance Graham Drummond, who adds that the vehicle it had previously been using “was becoming “old and tatty”.
“We wanted to look at some of the things that come as standard on these vehicles, and also take a ‘Zero Harm’ approach”
Graham Drummond, BBRCE
The specialist vehicle is used to carry signs and cones for traffic management, as well as acting as an impact protection vehicle for operatives carrying out work on the side of the road. BBRCE’s maintenance contract involves both planned maintenance and emergency response on 16km of the M77 and 9km of dual carriageway on the Glasgow Southern Orbital road, and the TM vehicle goes out onto the network on average two to three times a week, usually with three or four operatives on board.
It is the safety of these operatives that was at the forefront of Drummond’s mind as the first steps were taken to procure the new vehicle through Balfour Beatty’s in-house plant division, with input from the company’s health and safety department. “We wanted to look at some of the things that come as standard on these vehicles, and also take a “Zero Harm” approach,” he explains, referring to the company’s group-wide safety policy.
As a result, the new vehicle boasts a range of non-standard features designed to make life easier and safer for the operatives who use it day-in-day-out, surrounded by high speed traffic on Glasgow’s busy road network. These include an anti-slip surface on the deck and under the driver’s door; a bus-type door with just a single step to give much easier access into the cab; and a walk-through cab that means the driver can get out on the passenger’s side rather than into live traffic when the vehicle is parked on the hard shoulder.
A key area of any TM vehicle is the footwell, where an operative stands to pick up and place traffic cones, which are stacked on the deck above. “We looked very closely at the footwell and what operations the men have to do to there,” says Drummond.
As a result there are some significant design changes, including the floor of the footwell being much nearer the ground than on previous models, and a new gate system that offers a lot more protection. “Usually there is a bar at calf level, but we didn’t think that was safe,” says Drummond. “On scaffolding you have to have something [protection] at hip level, so that is why we came up with the gate system.”
Full size mock up
Aware that the operatives might find the gate far more restricting than the simple calf-level bar they were used to, BBRCE had a full size mock-up of the new footwell area built out of timber, and invited each of the six TM operatives employed on the contract to try it. “We wanted to make sure that whatever size they were there could reach over the gate system and place a cone and pick it up,” says Drummond.
“They all had a shot at it to make sure they were happy with using it”, he adds. “They were keen to get involved, and were pleased and impressed that we had gone to the effort to make the mock-up.”
The walk-through cab, which has proved very popular with the operatives, was created by switching to a fully automatic transmission, eliminating the manual gearbox that used to sit between the driver and passenger seats.
This had the added bonus of taking out the clutch pedal, freeing up space for a big intercom button, operated by the driver’s left foot, to allow communication between the driver and the operatives on the back.
Additional safety features include LED lights on the back and sides of the vehicle to make it highly visible at night, and four cameras - three at the back and one directed at the deck - to record any incidents or accidents, and provide evidence if another vehicle collides with it.
Procuring the machine took the best part of a year, from initial discussions with the operatives about what features to include to taking delivery in early September, and represents an investment of around £110,000. The chassis and cabin were built by well known manufacturer Dennis, with the specialist TM features supplied by Acklea. It has a low emission engine, and is made from recycled steel, aluminium and plastic.
BBRCE is keeping the vehicle at its maintenance depot at J5 of the M77, and says it can get to any part of the network within 20 minutes.