Operation Stack Reaches Breaking Point

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The continuing problems with strike action at the port of Calais has had some pretty far reaching and media grabbing implications during the course of the summer thus far; a major one of which has been the strain on HGV transport which has seen Operation Stack strained as never before. Indeed, such has the ongoing disruption to channel caused near unprecedented delays that it’s prompted calls from the Road Haulage Association to examine whether or not the government’s emergency parking measures are still up to the task.

What is Operation Stack?

First introduced as a reaction to strike action in 1988, the operation has been the go-to procedure for road freight whenever there’s been cause of extreme delays approaching or using the channel tunnel or cross-channel ferry services from the Port of Dover.  As Dover is the gateway for around 90% of HGV traffic between the UK and continental Europe, any delays can quickly clog up the roads with stationary lorries’ which can create serious congestion throughout the wider area.

Operation Stack was implemented to alleviate such occurrences by essentially turning the M20 (the main access linking the M25 with Dover) into a makeshift parking area for the lorries, at the same time diverting other traffic onto the adjacent (but considerably smaller) A20. The procedure has the ability to create an additional 3000 parking spaces for lorries during times of major delay. Given that this means basically closing down an entire motorway, the operation has never been too far away from controversy with some noted incidences having lasted days on end meaning long waits for HGV drivers and knock-on implications for cars and other vehicles diverted onto the smaller A roads.

This most recent implementation however, has seen the problems heightened to the extreme.

30 Mile Tailbacks and 6000 Trucks

As the Calais crisis has continued through the summer, amid much media coverage (largely centred around the attempts of migrants to stow-away on trucks and other haulage vehicles), so the delays to HGV workers been exacerbated with Operation Stack being stretched some way beyond the limits for which it was set.

Reports have suggested that there have been almost double the allotted 3000 lorries in the M20 zone during the height of the disruption with a backlog of stationary traffic reaching back up to an astonishing (and somewhat patience trying) 30 miles. As reported on HGVUK.com the RHA Chief Executive Richard Burnett has suggested the operation is no longer fit for purpose in the face of such extreme congestion.

Burnett has called for a greater level of adequate lorry parks for such eventualities providing greater provisions for drivers stuck in such trying conditions.

Help from the Freight Transport Association

One of the issues raised is that such delays have led to drivers being stuck in this makeshift lorry park on the motorway with little access to basic facilities such as toilets and, crucially, with limited access to food and water. A problem made that much more acute on account of the worst of the delays happening on the hottest days of the year.

Bringing some comfort to those who have been caught up in this recent delay members of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) have been leaping into action to provide both solidarity and sustenance to their fellow workers. Following the call to local members the FTA have rallied by arranging vehicles to get to the stranded trucks and deliver essential supplies to the drivers; a move which has been widely praised as a clear demonstration of the unity within the haulage industry.