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Thread: Motorway Matrix Signs

  1. #1
    Regular Member parapaul's Avatar
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    Exclamation Motorway Matrix Signs

    I found this post over on PH, and thought I'd share it. Even considering how much time I spend dealing with Motorway incidents, I had no idea how the Highways Agency and Police go about getting the Matrix signs up. This post explains a lot.

    Quote Originally Posted by GafferJim on PH
    Lets start with the campaign messages, ie, "Don't drink & drive" "Don't hog the middle lane" etc. All these are set from the NTCC (National Traffic Control Centre) usually for a specific time span, and have been decided by the higher-ups who have the data showing where and when this type of incident is most prevalent.
    The NTCC also set the strategic signs for big incidents similar to "A66 closed at Brough" but these can be seen 100's of miles away. I also asked "WHY?" when I saw some set in our area, and I had no idea where the hell it was. The NTCC tell us, that if there's a major incident that is causing problems on the network, they set signs as far away as it could affect traffic.
    Yep! you don't understand that! OK, if the A66 was closed, this could affect drivers from the NW leaving the M6 in Cumbria, or drivers leaving the A1M in the NE. Now if the closure in estimated to be for 3 hours, then the NTCC will set signs warning of it, for {70 mph x 3} ie 210 miles. This means that you could see signs most of the way from the M25 up both legs of the country. This then gives the travelling public the chance to alter there route, or delay their departure (& keep their ears open to TA announcements on the radio) the closer you get to the incident, the more signs you'll see.
    The NTCC will also set signs giving advance warning of major events, ie "British GP, 6/7/8 july, expect delays" All these types of messages are agreed months in advance by the higher-ups.

    The information messages similar to "10 miles to J29, 10 mins" are an automatic setting, there are special cameras at strategic points that read a group of numberplates, memorising the last 3 didgets, when a proportion of these number plates pass the next strategic point, it can work out how long it's taken for them to travel the distance and will ammend the signs accordingly.
    Obviously the maximum speed it "allows" in it's calculations is 70mph.
    The general public seem to like them.

    MIDAS.

    Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling.

    These are basically electronic wire loops set into each lane of the carriageway, similar to the ones prior to traffic-lights. They detect all sorts of things, but the bits that we're interested in is queue settings.
    If they detect the average speed of vehicles in ANY lane going less than 20 mph slower than the posted limit, they will trigger automatic signal settings showing speed restrictions, (initially 50's) if the speed drops significantly less than that, it will lower the speeds set, usually to 40, but there can be instances where lower speeds may show. In our area, MIDAS is only in the area where there are either full gantry signals, or cantilever type signals. If the matrix is still the old central res stuff, we don't have midas in that area.
    MIDAS "looks" at each pad approx evey 4 mins. The thing that can upset MIDAS and give false settings, is a slow moving large HGV, it can/will trigger MIDAS, then the system needs faster vehicles to trigger it back off.
    MIDAS will always be accompanied by a message about "Queue". "Queue slow", "queue ahead", "queue on sliproad", etc, these are all MIDAS settings, so you can be certain that something has set these off.

    RCC signal & sign settings (these are the ones that I do!)

    We'll start with "SPRAY & FOG" I personally agree whole-hearted with you! but ACPO (look it up!) and the HA have a policy of setting warning signs for this.
    Either a HATO patrol, or POLICE patrol will call up asking for these. If we have CCTV in the area we will monitor it in the RCC and remove the signs should things get better, often though we have to wait until a patrol (BiB or HATO) calls up to have them cleared.
    INCIDENTS
    We HAVE to set signs/signals to warn other motorists, protect the affected drivers/crews that are in the c/way etc.
    Initial settings;...........It all depends on the information given, and who it's come from. If it's come from a member of the public, we set 50mph, usually with "incident or debris" on the sign. Now that could be for a horrendous accident with all lanes completely blocked and the c/way looking like a scrapyard, or, more often than not, it's something else and it's in the wrong location, so there's nothing actually at the location what-so-ever.
    We often get "between junction "x" and junction "y" that's great! as some junctions are 13 miles apart!
    If a driver on the otherhand, calls in either from an ERT (Emergency Roadside Telephone) or gives a markerpost location, we can onviously tie down the location better, and are now allowed to set up to 2 signs prior to the incident for 30's, NOTE; not lane closures.
    Confirmed settings...........If a Police patrol, HATO patrol, HA contractor call in the incident, or we find it on CCTV, then its a CONFIRMED report, and appropriate signals can be set, including lane closures etc.
    So if you see signals for lane closures or low speeds, then there is an incident in progress.

    ONCE SIGNALS ARE SET FOR AN INCIDENT, ONLY THE PATROL AT THE SCENE CAN AUTHORISE THEM TO BE CLEARED.

    That means that every incident called in the wrong place, with nothing there, first has to be checked by either a HATO or Police patrol and confirmed "No Trace"
    (Now I can tell you of loads of times when we've had patrols running all over the place looking for something that been reported in a number of different locations)
    As I've said, the initial setting is for 50mph for an unconfirmed report, if signals are reduced further, to either lower speeds or lane closures, the system automatically sets prior signals stepping the speeds down.

    MANDATORY SIGNALS
    At present we don't have any mandatory speed settings in our area (so I'm not commenting on them!) (these are encircled in red) all our speed settings are advisory only.
    The mandatory signals that we all have are lane closures, ie, the red "X" (I also believe that a lane closure set on a "wicket" is also mandatory, but I'll stand corrected if I'm wrong) ignore these lane closures and you leave yourself open for prosecution by the police.

    ROADWORKS.

    I hate roadworks!
    Signals for roadworks are supposed to be set a certain way, now I am aware that one or two RCC's are/have been setting them incorrectly, hopefully that will/has been sorted.
    This is how they should be set;.........
    The TSO (Foreman of works crew) calls into RCC with details of works, this is checked to see if it's been authorised (so we don't get different roadworks running into each other) once confirmed, we then......
    Reduce the HDS (Highest Displayable Speed on the signals, normally 60)to either 50mph, or 10 mph below any posted speeds.
    Kill the MIDAS pads so that the roadworks vehicles will not activate it.
    Set the signal just prior to the start of the roadworks. ie lane 3 closure.
    note; if the actual closure will not be going on straight away, (it might need a rolling block to stop traffic to allow the roadworks crew into lane 3 to start setting out the cones) we set 50's until the RRB is about to start, when we would then set the lane closure.
    If we were setting lanes 2,3 & 4 closed on a 4 lane c/way, then the system would set signals prior to the one we set, stepping down the speeds and closures gradually.
    note; We only set the signal prior to the start of the roadworks, not any thoughout (this is where other RCC's are/have been incorrect)
    Once the roadworks gang have got their cones etc laid out, then the TSO calls us back and we switch off the signals.
    When the roadworks are ready to be removed, the TSO calls back, and we reset the signals again. The roadworks crew remove all their cones & signs etc, then *Hopefully!* call us back to clear the signals and reset everything back to normal.( other wise we only find out when a patrol goes through and there's no-one there!) Bain of my life!!

    The systems not perfect, in fact it's now quite old and a new one is being worked on, but it's not bad! signals and signs are being added to ,updated on a regular basis.

    At the end of the day, it's all down to what information we get, we have no idea if it's wrong or right until a patrol has checked. you can all help by quoting markerpost numbers/ ERT numbers should you ever call anything in, the HA are now siteing larger MP's every ½km so you no longer need to stop and get out of your car to read the little MP's

    On a personal basis, I also used to think signals had been left on when there was nothing there etc. Now I know different, and have altered my driving to suite.
    I don't go above 50 mph through roadworks.
    I may not reduce to 50mph when I see 50's incident, but I will come down towards it, and I will also leave more room between me and the car in front, watching for him to swerve or slow, and for further lower speed signals. if I see a lane closure, then I will obey it straight away, I've seen the brown envelopes ready to go out to those that didn't!

    I've tried to explain how, why, who etc. as best that I can, I'm not going to be drawn into a knocking /defending arguament, if you don't like it, fine! come up with a better idea and let the HA know. If signals are blatently wrong, call the HA Information Line and tell them, it'll be investigated quickly (within 10 - 15 mins max) just like you, we aren't perfect!

    One more thing, the HA do NOT enforce speed limits, the Police do that.

  2. #2
    Regular Member detritus's Avatar
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    My god thats a lot to read! Ill come back later when iv had a drink.
    Could you give me a brief sum up?
    Detritus.

  3. #3
    Regular Member parapaul's Avatar
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    in a nutshell - half of what you see is based on pressure pads in the tarmac which 'see' slow moving traffic ahead. The rest is set by their control room but they can only work with the limited location information Joe Public usually provides.

  4. #4
    Ex-Staff Full Member Taffyopel's Avatar
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    Interesting read that Paul.

    Always wondered how they calculate the travelling time to a particular junction. Clever how they read the plates.


    Snowman, you got your ears on?

  5. #5
    Regular Member MLC's Avatar
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    I complained about a 20mph limit on the M42 one night. It was 3am through roadworks, nobody working, but still had a 20mph limit. It was totally ridiculous. I called up on the radio and told them to change it, only to be told by the Highways Agency that they were set from a Central control.

    The Poor old truckers were having a nightmare. They clearly couldn't decide whether to stay at 20mph, or risk ignoring it. So they all went about 34mpn instead.

  6. #6
    Regular Member craigbarlow18's Avatar
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    am i right in saying obviosly them circumstances granted it...... but ignoring this limit with it being temporary would only result in a fine not endorsements

  7. #7
    Regular Member G.O'Rilla's Avatar
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    Really interesting, Paul - thanks for putting it up here. Anything for greater understanding which leads to less frustration for people.............

  8. #8
    Regular Member parapaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by craigbarlow18 View Post
    am i right in saying obviosly them circumstances granted it...... but ignoring this limit with it being temporary would only result in a fine not endorsements
    Matrix signs with flashing AMBER lights are advisory. Signs with flashing RED lights are mandatory.

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    Regular Member Ste's Avatar
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    I will cause some controversy here. If I see serious signs about say lane closures on Motorways (not the red cross type signs), I IGNORE them until I can actually see the closure. TOO many times the signs are wrong and people moving lanes (seems to be mostly lane 3 closed) actually causes delays.

    If I see the 50 advisory limit, I also don't normally reduce to that speed, but will reduce somewhat to the current driving conditions.

    In my experience, I would say the serious signs are wrong about 40% of the time. Serious means lane closure, debris, people in carriageway etc. I guess it's just a timing thing and they haven't been reset quickly enough as the situation changes.

    Unfortunately, these delays in modifying signage can have consequences.

  10. #10
    Regular Member mick307's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ste View Post
    I will cause some controversy here. If I see serious signs about say lane closures on Motorways (not the red cross type signs), I IGNORE them until I can actually see the closure. TOO many times the signs are wrong and people moving lanes (seems to be mostly lane 3 closed) actually causes delays.

    If I see the 50 advisory limit, I also don't normally reduce to that speed, but will reduce somewhat to the current driving conditions.

    In my experience, I would say the serious signs are wrong about 40% of the time. Serious means lane closure, debris, people in carriageway etc. I guess it's just a timing thing and they haven't been reset quickly enough as the situation changes.

    Unfortunately, these delays in modifying signage can have consequences.
    One of the problems i have as an HA team manager is getting through to my guys the importance of getting signs off quickly.

    If, as an example, they have a lane 1 closure for an LGV wheel change then i will remove the closure as soon as the tyre fitter has finished and they are doing the paperwork. Once the cones are in then i get the signs switched off, which means the motoring public see the LGV and fitters vehicles still on the hard shoulder and can see there was a problem. Some of the guys will wait until the LGV and fitter have pulled away, then take the cones in, then turn the signs off. Which means 300 passing cars see an empty hard shoulder and no reason for the delay.

    I think you need to understand that everything within the Highways Agency is done with safety in mind, hence 2 miles of cones with 2 blokes working on a bit of barrier near the end of it. The procedures and processes that the HA use have been developing sonce 1959 when the M1 opened and they are still changing today, and its all to make for a safer working environment for the workers. The training for a HATO is 5/6 weeks, plus 4 weeks being assessed as safe to work in a motorway live lane. For the barrier repair crews and traffic management trucks/crash cushions its a 4 week course plus assessment time.

    What isnt mentioned in the original cut and paste is that if an RCC (Regional Control Centre) is very busy it can take 2/3 minutes to get in on the radio to turn signs off, it can then take them 2/3 minutes to actually do it. Thats up to 6 minutes that cars are passing a sign thats still lit!!!

    Mick.

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