The government-run organisation in charge of the country’s motorways is trialling new barrier technology to close lanes in the event of roadworks. National Highways says the new SwiftGate system will be a quicker and safer way of coning off roads for maintenance purposes.

Capable of deploying in around five minutes, SwiftGate can swing into action faster than road workers would need to deploy the ‘taper’ of cones that direct drivers away from a closed lane. Instead, the system can be deployed, before cones are placed behind the barriers to clearly separate the closed-off lane.

The system also provides a “strong visual deterrent” to avoid incursions into a closed lane, particularly at night time. In total, National Highways says 14 such incursions took place during 2019, potentially putting the lives of road workers at risk.

Hindhead Tunnel, A3, UK

The new SwiftGate technology is being installed on the A3 at the Hindhead Tunnel (pictured, above), in Surrey, as part of a trial on the north and southbound carriageways. The tunnel requires regular closures for what National Highways calls “essential maintenance work”, and workers would normally cone off the tunnel entrances.

Now, however, the SwiftGate system will be used, with the gates filtering traffic out of the outside lane before cones direct vehicles out of the lanes. National Highways’ head of lean and continuous improvement, Martin Bolt, said the system should prove safer than conventional cones.

“Installing and removing a taper of cones in the face of traffic exposes our road workers to risk, particularly on elevated sections of road, bridges or tunnels where there may not be an embankment or place of safety,” he said. “If successful, SwiftGate is another step to zero live lane working for our workforce as we work towards our goal of ensuring nobody is harmed while working or travelling on our roads.

“The automated tapers free up workers to do other jobs and can be put out in just 50 seconds meaning work can begin straight away with less disruption for road users. We look forward to seeing SwiftGate in action at Hindhead Tunnel.”

The SwiftGate trial follows successful trials of an automated cone-laying machine, which can lay and retrieve cones automatically, removing the need for a two-man team to lift and drop cones from a moving vehicle. A second automated cone-laying machine is also due to undergo testing as part of National Highways’ ring-fenced fund for technological innovation. It’s possible these systems, when operational, could work in combination with the SwiftGate tech.