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AmberPodcast Episode #3 Safe Motorway: Behind the Scenes

Do you want to find out what the work in the Traffic Control Centre looks like, or whether there are areas of the motorway that require special supervision? You will find the answers to these and many more questions in the third episode of AmberPodcast. In the latest interview with Maciej Rogiński, Motorway Maintenance Manager, we went behind the scenes to discover the specifics of the daily challenges of working in the A1 Motorway Maintenance Team.

Anna Kordecka: Welcome to the third episode of AmberPodcast. Today, we take a behind-the-scenes look at the maintenance of a motorway, where we will discover the efforts and challenges behind ensuring road safety for road users. The guest of the latest episode of AmberPodcast is Maciej Rogiński, motorway maintenance manager. Welcome.

Maciej Rogiński: Hello ladies and gentlemen.

AK: Let’s start with the day-to-day activities of the motorway maintenance services. How many people make up the A1 Motorway Maintenance Team?

MR: There are more than 125 people in our team in the maintenance department. These are people who are spread across three locations. This is in the Motorway Maintenance District in Pelplin, in Nowe Marzy and in the Grabowiec District.

AK: And if we were to give our listeners a glimpse of a typical working day in the motorway maintenance department, what does it look like?

MR: The broadly understood conduct of our employees focuses on three basic areas. The first of them, which should be mentioned, and which is extremely important from the point of view of safety, is the work of the road patrol. It is a service that consists of round-the-clock control of the motorway, i.e. the so-called 24 hours a day, 7 days a year, 365 days a year, when our employees control the motorway in terms of safety, and the work is carried out by properly trained personnel, who perform their duty divided into 3 sections, so they start working on the previously mentioned motorway maintenance circuits. These are the people who are most often encountered by motorway users and who have the most opportunities to contact users and the most difficult situations that we can observe on the motorway, and these are unusual situations, such as damage to a vehicle, a road incident or damage to infrastructure.

The second of our main activities is related to the scope of work of employees who perform the so-called routine activities, i.e. consisting in the ongoing maintenance of the motorway, described in detail in the schedules and aimed at securing the proper use of the infrastructure and all elements affecting safety. As the third part, we can mention works that appear as works or result from unforeseen events. This work is also carried out by the employees of the maintenance department. These works consist in particular of securing road incidents, removing the effects of these events and restoring the infrastructure to the state necessary for its safe use.

AK: You said about the Central Traffic Control Centre. I once had the opportunity to visit such a traffic control center and I must admit that the number of screens for observation and information that flow into the center was impressive. Could you tell us more about what a working day looks like in such a CKR, what the monitoring systems that help to maintain the continuity of traffic on the motorway look like?

MR: CKR is a round-the-clock service. The traffic control centre, as the name suggests, is responsible for controlling what is happening along the entire cross-section, along the entire length of the A1 motorway from Gdańsk to Toruń. The Traffic Control Centre, as you rightly pointed out, has a number of tools to control road safety, to observe what is happening at the entrance gates through a system of CCTV cameras, as well as a number of assistance systems, such as those that allow you to determine whether it is the intensity of traffic on the motorway, or whether they monitor the weather on an ongoing basis through a system of weather stations installed along the motorway.  Do employees have access to the system of alarm columns in order to have direct contact with motorway users in the event of incidents on the road, as well as have direct contact with all employees, in particular our department, the maintenance department through the operator’s radio system.

AK: And what other equipment is necessary for the daily maintenance of the motorway and how large is the fleet of vehicles at the disposal of the maintenance team?

MR: The operator has a very large fleet of vehicles. When it comes to strictly maintenance vehicles, we are talking about more than 60 vehicles. These are vehicles that are dedicated to various types of tasks. In particular, heavy vehicles, trucks, which are dedicated to maintenance in the winter, so they can use maintenance equipment such as spreaders or ploughs, and we have more than 20 of these vehicles in our fleet. In addition, as part of its ongoing activities, the operator is also equipped with more than 20 intervention and brigade vehicles, which are used for ongoing operations throughout the year, and a significant part of our fleet consists of the so-called patrol vehicles, which are used by road patrol employees to control the motorway on an ongoing basis and ensure the safety of users. Of course, our fleet of vehicles is not limited only to vehicles in the strictly maintenance sense. We also have administrative vehicles used by the staff of maintenance districts or the management staff.

AK: And what are the biggest challenges related to the maintenance of the motorway?

MR: There are a lot of challenges, but the ones that should be mentioned here in particular are winter maintenance, i.e. conducting the so-called winter maintenance campaigns. The second one, very important from the point of view of our operations, is the challenge related to securing and operating within the framework of unforeseen road incidents. Here, the speed of our action is extremely important. It is described in particular in the procedures on the basis of which we perform our activities, but also related to the expectations of users and their safety on the road. We are obliged to take action as quickly as possible to secure road incidents or simply ordinary damage to the vehicle, which may occur and such vehicles remain in the emergency lane, for example, during a breakdown, or simply a simple careless stop of its users. Our actions must lead to securing such unforeseen situations as soon as possible.

AK: You mentioned that the road patrol employees are the team that has the most frequent contact with users. What does a typical day or even a day look like for them, because they work 24 hours a day?

MR: Yes, that’s true. We employ our employees 24/7, 365 days a year. This means that they are basically available to motorway users around the clock. Our employees move from three points. They have as their base the motorway maintenance circuits in Pelplin, Nowe Marzy and Grabowiec. It is structured in such a way that they can ensure the fastest possible access, the response time in accordance with the procedures, as well as the reactivity is as high as possible. Road patrol employees are tasked with constantly observing the situation on the motorway, reacting in the event of any identified hazards or road incidents, as well as being, as we say in our jargon, the eyes of the traffic control centre, because they are the ones who are obliged to provide current information directly on the road. Not only about incidents, but also about the condition of the infrastructure, possible unforeseen situations, defects or the need to take action to repair the road infrastructure. This is an extremely important group of employees who must be properly trained, properly prepared for actions, and we do not hide the fact that they are resistant to stress, because sometimes these activities boil down, for example, to securing serious road accidents.

AK: It seems that they are the ones who are exposed to the greatest danger, because there are probably cases when users are doing something other than watching the road and inadvertently damage the vehicles of the motorway maintenance service. Are such cases frequent?

MR: Fortunately, the growing awareness of drivers and users of expressways in Poland means that there are fewer and fewer such incidents. However, on the other side we have an increasing volume of traffic due to the fact that our road network has expanded. Users are very happy to use roads of a good standard and are eager to travel, especially during the holiday or summer season, to the Polish seaside, which leads to the fact that, unfortunately, situations are quite often created that threaten the safety of not only users, but also our employees. And as you mentioned, road patrol employees have to deal with many situations, including, unfortunately, dangerous ones. On the other hand, their preparation and compliance with the procedures lead to the fact that so far we have not had any serious incidents involving them. And it should also be mentioned that these employees, by following the recommendations, in accordance with the guidelines, taking care of their safety in the first place, avoid events that could potentially happen to them if they were not well prepared.

AK: Let’s move on to such maintenance work. What are the types of maintenance work carried out on a motorway and do they vary depending on the season or weather conditions?

MR: Yes, maybe I’ll start with the second part of the question, because the work in particular varies depending on the season. In winter, we have a huge challenge to ensure the safety of users by making the road surface safe for drivers. By carrying out winter road maintenance campaigns, we try to ensure that the road is, as they say in our jargon, sufficiently roughened so that winter slipperiness does not arise. Winter maintenance campaigns are not only what drivers see when precipitation occurs, i.e. for example it starts to snow, but above all they also carry out the so-called preventive actions, which cause that by spreading defrosting agents, i.e. the so-called road salt, they ensure that the first snowfall or the formation of potential slipperiness on the road will be de facto eliminated before the moment,  when she had a chance to make it on the road. So winter maintenance actions are extremely important to us. And inevitably, they are carried out, especially in winter. The remaining actions, our other activities, are summer, spring and autumn works, which can be roughly divided into planned and so-called ad hoc works. Planned works are those that result from schedules and are recorded both in the procedures of the motorway operator and in the concessionaire’s contract. These works are imposed, consisting in particular of repetitive work, such as washing road signs, washing barriers, sweeping the road surface, or mowing green areas. Ad hoc works can be defined as those works that appear as unforeseen and result from unusual situations on the road, i.e. the need to repair infrastructure damaged as a result of a road accident, or a damaged fence that needs to be repaired urgently, because it is used to ensure safety and prevent the intrusion of e.g. wild animals on the road. Also roughly, three types or three types of our duties can be observed here, winter work and shared work in the rest of the period, work resulting from schedules and ad hoc work.

AK: Okay, so let’s leave the winter topics and find out what the work of the maintenance department looks like at other times of the year, and exactly when do you do maintenance work and do you take actions that minimize traffic disruption while carrying out this work?

MR: In particular, maintenance work is based on standard schedules approved on an annual basis, which are, you could say, repetitive work. The above-mentioned types of work are performed at certain times of the year, but also due to safety, which is a significant aspect of our business, we try to adjust them and arrange them in detailed schedules in such a way that they pose the least possible risk to users and our employees who perform these works. Therefore, the planning of works is carried out in such a way that some of them are carried out at times of the day when we observe less traffic. An example of this is cleaning or taking care of the gates at toll plazas, which we carry out especially at night, when the traffic in these locations is lower. Attention should also be paid to works that require lane closures, which reduces the availability of these lanes for motorway users, and thus may potentially cause congestion as well as other types of traffic obstructions. We also try to perform such work at these times of the day and at these times of the year, so that the intensity that can affect safety is as low as possible. There are some works that can also be done, whether before the summer or after the summer, when we expect the busiest time. Our routine work is also planned.

AK: Are there areas of the motorway that require special supervision?

MR: First of all, it should be emphasized that in the case of a motorway in a closed system, i.e. where toll collection takes place at junctions and at the main toll plazas, these locations are particularly supervised due to the increased traffic volume and the possibility of relatively frequent road incidents caused by a larger number of vehicles. So, for these locations, it should be emphasized that we pay special attention. As I mentioned earlier, there are also CCTV cameras at these locations, which are subject to ongoing observation by both the Traffic Control Center and those responsible for toll collection. In winter, on the other hand, places where slippery roads may occur are extremely important. In particular, we are talking about large motorway facilities. And I would like to remind you that the two largest motorway facilities are located on our section, in particular the facility near Grudziądz, which is over two kilometres long, and these are the facilities to which we must pay special attention in the winter to avoid any difficulties resulting from freezing of the road surface or other winter phenomena.

AK: That’s interesting information, I think it’s very important for our listeners, they will know where to watch out on the highway. Despite the fact that motorways are the safest roads and the accident rate on AmberOne is decreasing despite the growing traffic, it still happens that there are collisions, accidents or simply breakdowns of vehicles used by users. So, what are the procedures that apply in the event of a breakdown or emergency situation on the motorway?

MR: In an emergency, according to our procedures, the traffic patrol is always called to the scene first. This is his basic activity, to observe and react in unusual situations. If the incident is relatively minor and consists only of a vehicle breakdown, it is sufficient for a patrol employee to secure the vehicle himself. It then forwards the information to the Traffic Control Centre and the user is provided with information on the basis of which they can decide, for example, whether to call roadside assistance. In the case of situations that are more extensive in scale, i.e. a road accident involving many vehicles, the road patrol is also the first service to arrive at the scene of the incident. It should be mentioned at this point that for the A1 motorway there is a so-called rescue plan, which precisely defines the manner of proceeding and cooperation between the services dedicated to handling rescue operations, i.e. we are talking about the fire brigade, police, ambulance service, as well as in this plan there is a place for our motorway services. This plan is the core that defines the method of cooperation between the services and after the information flowing to the Traffic Control Centre, on the basis of this plan, the necessary actions are taken, information is sent to the services involved and positions, which decide on the participation of the relevant services in securing or rescue operations on the motorway.

AK: And how should the driver and people travelling with him behave in the event of a vehicle breakdown?

MR: The road patrol, which is usually the first to appear on the part of the operator, on the part of the motorway services, at the motorway user who has a problem, provides the necessary information on how to maintain safety, in particular recommends getting out of the vehicle, in case of good weather even going to the motorway fence in order to minimise the potential impact on the damaged or vehicle in the lanes after the collision and recommends putting on a vest Reflective. If it is necessary to provide security, it provides security by positioning our patrol vehicle in an appropriate way, and in situations when the event is more extensive, it calls additional services to introduce a dedicated traffic organization.

AK: Is there any special training for employees or emergency services in order to effectively manage crisis situations?

MR: Of course, this is one of the foundations of our business. All our employees, in addition to basic training and knowledge of procedures, are from time to time dedicated to undergo specialized training, in particular in cooperation with rescue services. In addition, we have regular meetings attended by the operator’s services, concessionaire’s employees and rescue services, which have the right and obligation to act on the A1 motorway in order to ensure safety and remove the effects of road accidents. Such regular meetings allow us to exchange observations and take the necessary actions to improve our joint activities. In addition, the operator, in cooperation with the services, in particular the fire brigade, from time to time participates in organized manoeuvres or trainings dedicated to improving our efficiency and skills, e.g. there are joint trainings on the use of extinguishing agents.

AK: Are road incidents occurring on the motorway subject to analysis in terms of the possibility of introducing additional solutions to increase safety?

MR: Absolutely. In cooperation with the concessionaire, a meeting is held at least once a year, which we call the Safety Team, where the most important road incidents from the point of view of safety are discussed internally and the statistics of the hazards that appeared on the motorway in the past year are discussed. As a result of such meetings and the conclusions drawn from them, we have taken a number of decisions and actions, such as, for example, the decision to raise the motorway fence on many sections of the motorway where the presence of wild animals has been observed. In many situations, the actions we take after such analyses also lead, m.in, to strengthening the operator’s equipment, e.g. through the purchase of specialized equipment, such as crash trailers, which decisively protect both our work and help to avoid more serious damage to motorway users in the event of a collision with our vehicles, for example.

AK: Thank you. That’s pretty much information I see when it comes to security. Probably not many people who use our motorway think about it while driving. And are the maintenance works of the motorway carried out in accordance with sustainable practices aimed at minimizing their impact on the environment?

MR: It should be emphasized that, as far as possible, our activity tries to fit in with the trend related to environmental protection. On the side of the maintenance department, there are mainly issues related to the replacement of old equipment or vehicles, and in such situations, when there is a planned replacement of equipment, we try to ensure that our new acquisitions meet strict environmental standards. All the equipment, all the purchases that are made, are carried out by reliable sellers who have the equipment required, either by EU certificates or other legal provisions. In addition, we also support activities that lead directly to the improvement of environmental standards, such as the replacement of light sources with more efficient ones, i.e. LED lighting. It should also be mentioned that as an operator, we have initiated the installation of photovoltaic farms along the motorway at our key locations, which serve to reduce electricity consumption. Together with the concessionaire, we are also striving to improve environmental values, e.g. on the initiative of the concessionaire, actions have been taken to initiate the introduction of the so-called flower meadows, which are implemented in selected areas and at the moment in several locations users who keep a close eye on green areas can observe them.

AK: Yes, it seems that there are as many as three locations, three hectares of meadows, which make our journey more pleasant, blooming beautifully in summer. In the case of planned works, do you use any means of communication to inform drivers about the work being carried out or about emergencies?

MR: In the event that longer works are planned along the motorway, i.e. those that can be planned, but may have a significant impact on traffic difficulties, information is prepared in advance, in particular to the media, including details such as the planned period and location of these works. Such information, on the basis of the detailed information provided, is dealt with in particular by the concessionaire who has direct contact with the media. The information is provided in particular on social networking sites, such as Twitter or the AmberOne application dedicated to our motorway. Each of the users who uses it can observe the current information that appears there, and the use is very simple, because it is a dedicated application that each of us can install on our smartphone. If, on the other hand, we are talking about unforeseen situations that occur in an unplanned mode, i.e. those that result in particular from road safety, the operator is equipped, among others, with devices such as variable message boards, which may inform about potential difficulties, as well as may lead to the fact that the user, having knowledge of, for example, a serious event, a motorway closure,  may decide in advance to choose an alternative route.

AK: Thank you. This is information that is definitely worth remembering, because it will allow us to travel without surprises. Thus, I would like to thank you for today’s meeting, in which my guest, an expert in motorway maintenance issues, was Maciej Rogiński, A1 Motorway Maintenance Manager, and see you in the next episode of AmberPodcast, in which we will discuss the topic of motorway repairs.

35+43 km: The Pelplin junction is closed in the direction of Gdańsk.
Traffic runs on two lanes in the direction of Łódź and one lane in the
direction of Gdańsk. The Olsze Service Area is closed in the direction of Gdańsk.

9+17 km: The Stanisławie junction is closed in the direction of Łódź.
Traffic takes place on two lanes in the direction of Gdańsk and one lane in the direction of Łódź.

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