Reality of daily grind on Highway to Hell

On its side: Milk tanker crash on the south bound M6 at junction 35 near Carnforth
On its side: Milk tanker crash on the south bound M6 at junction 35 near Carnforth
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Drivers call it the ‘Highway to Hell’ – and new figures show why.

The M6 through Lancashire and Cumbria has always been a pain in the asphalt for motorists, with accidents bringing traffic to a standstill with alarming regularity.

But the latest statistics show it is getting even worse.

Last year, 25 smashes on the 100-mile stretch from Standish to Carlisle resulted in closures to either one carriageway or both for 133 hours 36 minutes - or the equivalent of five-and-a-half days and nights.

The disruption and its knock-on effect for traffic in places like Preston, Chorley, Leyland and Lancaster was almost double that of the previous year, with 2012 witnessing 16 accidents which blocked the motorway for a total of 72 hours, or three full days.

The toll has been rising steadily since 2010. Now one North West MP has called for an explanation and warned the “lack of reliability” of the M6 could be having an impact on business in the region and on the mobility of emergency services.

“The M6 is central to the region’s transport network,” said John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, who requested the figures in Parliament. “So safety on the road and reliability for its users is absolutely essential. These worrying figures show big steps backwards in both these respects.”

The Department of Transport has revealed that since January 2009 the motorway in Lancashire and Cumbria has been wholly or partially shut for a total of 344 hours and 10 minutes - which adds up to more than a fortnight over five years.

And according to Mr Woodcock, the time it takes to get the road cleared and rolling again after a crash has slowed down, despite Government attempts to speed things up.

“Ministers make a lot of noise about getting motorways reopened more quickly after accidents, yet in the North West at least it seems to be taking longer and longer, increasing delays and damaging the local economy,” he said.

“The lack of reliability of the M6 will also be having an impact on our local emergency services and needs to be considered when proposals are made to centralise (hospital) services. Last year, vascular services were moved from Lancaster to Preston, relying on the motorway being open to transport very ill patients from south Cumbria.”

That stretch from Lancaster to Preston is one of the most notorious along the entire 230 miles of the M6, Britain’s oldest and longest motorway.

Accident figures show a year rarely goes by without at least one fatal crash on that section. In fact, one short stretch near Garstang saw seven fatal accidents - costing nine lives in total - between 2005 and 2011.

That same piece of road was also the scene of one of the UK’s worst-ever smashes when a coach travelling between Edinburgh and London ploughed into the back of almost stationary traffic at a contraflow in October 1985.

A total of 13 people were killed - three of them passengers on the coach which was engulfed in flames - and 34 hurt. Two families of four also perished in burnt-out cars.

The most up-to-date figures on fatalities on the M6 show that in Lancashire alone during the eight years from 2005 to 2012 there were 28 accidents which led to loss of life. In total, 34 died and 13 were seriously injured.

Not only was the section near Garstang a blackspot, but so too was a stretch near Chorley which saw five fatal crashes between 2007 and 2011.

The worst accident in Lancashire for casualties in the eight years up to 2012 was near Charnock Richard where, in 2007, three people were killed and three more were seriously hurt when an articulated lorry crushed two cars. Two years later at Nether Kellet, three people died and two were badly injured in a crash involving two cars.