Calls to expedite safety measures after crashes close A1 twice in 24 hours

January 14, 2019

There have been increased calls for urgent action on the A1 carriageway after two major crashes occurred on the notorious road in less than 24 hours last week.

On Wednesday afternoon two people were airlifted to hospital following a two-vehicle crash involving a car and a tanker on the road near Newry. Less than 24 hours later, on Thursday morning, the road was again closed in both directions between Loughbrickland and the Sheepbridge roundabout, after a lorry toppled over the central reservation, shedding its load, and hitting another car. Thankfully, only minor injuries were reported.

In the wake of the latest accidents, SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Justin McNulty called for the A1 improvement scheme recently confirmed by the Department for Infrastructure to be brought forward. 

DfI announced the huge £50m safety upgrade on the main Belfast to Dublin route set to begin in 2021, after increasing pressure from a high profile campaign to secure vital improvements on the notorious stretch of road. 

The ”A1 How many must die?” petition was launched by the friends and family of 27 year old Newry man Karl Heaney, who died in May after a collision with a vehicle that had turned on to the wrong side of the A1 carriageway.  The campaign group, along with a delegation of local political representatives which included SDLP representative, Mr McNulty, were briefed on the department’s plans to improve safety along the carriageway  before Christmas.

A tanker lorry lies overturned on the A1 near Newry on Wednesday evening following a collision with a car.

The plans will see all central reservation crossing on the route closed, preventing u-turns and right turning out of junctions onto the road.

In addition, 21 junctions will be upgraded, 10 others will be closed and new safety barriers will be installed in the central reservation to improve safety.

Mr McNulty said that whilst the upgrade works are essential and welcome, with work not planned to commence until 2021, “a greater sense of urgency” is needed.

“I know many of the families who have lost loved ones or who have had friends and family seriously injured on the A1. All have firmly stated that if the road was safer, there would not have been an accident.

“For this reason alone, I believe every effort must be made now to ensure the road is much safer for all who use the route as soon as possible.”

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy said that action needs to be taken now to improve the existing road safety features and help raise drivers’ awareness along the strategically important transport corridor. 

The Sinn Féin MLA said the existing layout along the road, with a mix of agricultural and local traffic criss-crossing the carriageway at dozens of locations along the route “undoubtedly increases the risk of a collision” and called for additional signage and driver awareness initiatives discussed at the recent DfI meeting to be implemented immediately. 

The scene on the A1 carriageway near Newry on Thursday morning after a lorry toppled over the central reservation, hitting another car.

Last week’s crashes brought the main Belfast to Dublin thoroughfare to a standstill and caused ensuing traffic chaos in Newry and the surrounding areas –  prompting calls for an emergency traffic management system to be put in place to deal with such incidents.

Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady said that the traffic gridlock within the Newry and the wider locality following the incidents highlighted a deficiency in the management of traffic detour and movement when responding to emergencies on the A1.

Commending the work of the Emergency Services, Mr Brady said that although the resulting traffic build-ups due to road incidents are expected, “many feel that the chaos experienced by motorists was further compounded due to what seems is the lack of a well coordinated, fully resourced, emergency plan.”

The Newry and Armagh MP said he had been contacted by motorists about “poor signage visibility and failure to properly direct those vehicles and their drivers who were detoured, all this was compounded further by the dark winter evening.”

“The A1 is a major cross border route. Traffic accidents and incidents occur which will necessitate the need for road closure and detours.

“There really needs to be a comprehensive, fully resourced plan ready to kick in immediately. Having increased volumes of traffic and large lorries and vehicles driving around local roads, trying to work out where they are going, increases the likelihood of further accidents.”

Seamus Leheny, policy manager for the Freight Transport Association, said the group has consistently raised safety concerns about the A1 with the DfI.

“We’ve always had a big concern with the A1 and whenever we meet the Department for Infrastructure or politicians we press them on the issue,” he said.

“Our main concern is the gaps in the central reservation on the A1, which can cause vehicles to veer off into oncoming traffic and cause serious accidents.

“There are ongoing plans to close off the central reservation at sections of the road, and that is something we’ve been pushing for. Drivers entering the carriageway northbound also present a danger because they are entering the fast lane.

“The A1 is the most popular road in Northern Ireland for HGVs, which are limited in the maximum speed they should be doing on dual carriageways.

“Some other drivers, who may be driving too fast, seem not to take into account the difference in braking distances for these 40-tonne vehicles, which can cause serious accidents.”