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M1 fire: Industry divided over rules

Last week’s M1 fire has divided industry opinion about whether highways authorities should better manage risks posed by businesses to elevated transport infrastructure.

Highway authorities should be able to order the removal of hazardous material from beneath viaducts, said Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation executive board member Steve Rowsell.

Alternatively, he said: “If risks are not properly mitigated by existing regulation, then authorities need to be able to insist on higher-grade construction of bridges with greater resilience to fire.”

ICE President Peter Hansford said the issue should be incorporated into the National Infrastructure Plan 2011, due this autumn.

“Building resilience and spare capacity in our infrastructure networks to better protect assets must be a core component of the government’s long-term plans,” he said.

“This could be simply one of those incidents which is so rare as to not necessarily require a legislative response”

Imperial College London professor of transport and infrastructure Stephen Glaister

But other industry figures said the circumstances of the M1 incident were rare, and warned against a knee-jerk reaction. RAC Foundation chairman and Imperial College London professor of transport and infrastructure Stephen Glaister said imposing new regulations might be an overreaction.

“This could be simply one of those incidents which is so rare as to not necessarily require a legislative response,” he said.

New regulations could add to the cost of infrastructure work, said ICE affiliated Temporary Works Forum secretary John Carpenter.

“The majority of bridges do not have a flammable scrapheap underneath them, so this incident needs a measured response, not strict new regulations making construction unnecessarily expensive,” he said.

“The majority of bridges do not have a flammable scrapheap underneath them, so this incident needs a measured response”

Temporary Works Forum secretary John Carpenter

Mott MacDonald project manager Chris Atkins said the issue was worth looking at, but questioned the practicality of mitigating all fire risk to highways, given the implications for freight traffic.

“We trundle things up the motorway that contain huge quantities of inflammable material,” he said. “The M1 has been open for 50 years and this is the first time it’s happened.”

Sandberg Consulting Engineers partner Mike Eden said it would be “pretty much impossible” to design a road bridge to be fully resilient to an intense fire directly beneath it.

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