birmingham spaghetti junction

The busy heart of the strategic road network could see platooning HGVs trialed on it, according to new study report from transport consortium Midlands Connect.

Working with Highways England, Midlands Connect released a 25-year strategy for improving congestion and efficiencies in areas around the M5, M6 and M42 last year.

Today (6 May), the bodies added the Long-term Midlands motorway hub study to the existing work, containing 10 key measures to realise its goals.

One of the strategy’s 10 key goals is to test the potential for trialing new technology such as platooning HGVs on the major motorways.

This is one of the priorities the report outlines for the first three years of the strategy, alongside encouraging more use of the M6 toll by drawing more attention to the benefits of doing so.

The report confirms Midlands Connect is to begin work on the short-term goals imminently, having been allocated £4m in the Autumn budget, but conceded that its long-term strategy was dependent on the availability of funding.

Longer-term suggestions in the strategy include widening the M42, and improving its junctions from 3a to 7.

A potential key driver of improvement to the area identified in the report away from the motorways is upgrading the A46 to the Expressway standard (two or three lanes, as appropriate).

It also suggests a new Western Strategic route would be beneficial and support long-distance movements from the North West to the South West through the midlands. On this, Midlands Connect said it will work with stakeholders to investigate the option further, but would not yet consider specific routes, rather just the potential economic benefit of building one.

Julian Pottinger, director of Oldbury operator Little Pot Travel, said: “Congestion is a massive issue in the Black Country, both getting in to and out of the area. For haulage companies like mine that drives up costs through wasted fuel, time and resources.

“Improvements like smart motorway upgrades seem to be working, but more needs to be done to make the motorways run more smoothly in the future.  I’d be interested in seeing more detail on the idea of a Western Strategic Route linking the M5 and M6, but I’m glad that Midlands Connect is looking at shorter term, quick wins as well.”

Midlands Connect director Maria Machancoses added: “The Midlands is at the centre of the UK and when it comes to a standstill, the whole country suffers. We have always said that whatever benefits our regional economy will benefit the wider UK economy too.

"As a region, we need to bring together the East and West Midlands, enhancing the links between business and people. These ten recommendations can achieve just that.

“The report also outlines a recommendation to test the potential for trialing HGV platooning in the Midlands, to understand how lorries could move in sync through wireless technology. Midlands Connect will carry out more research this year on the prospect of trials, alongside other traffic management strategies such as freight-only lanes.”