A12 chaos eases for travellers

ROAD and rail links between East Anglia and London were starting to reopen this evening after a day of almost unprecedented chaos.

ROAD and rail links between East Anglia and London were starting to reopen this evening after a day of almost unprecedented chaos.

The drama unfolded just after 8.30am when a 200-metre exclusion zone was set up around a van fire involving an explosive oxy-acetylene cylinder on the A12 near Colchester.

It forced the closure of the road in both directions and train services replaced buses on the nearby main Norwich-London railway line - sparking misery for thousands of travellers.

However, this evening - 10 hours after the initial blaze - there was finally good news.

At 6.30pm, the railway was re-opened along with the Ipswich-bound carriageway of the A12 - although there were still severe delays, and it could be Saturday morning before the London-bound carriageway reopens.

Senior Divisional Officer Paul Bowers, of Essex Fire Service, said: "The incident is on the southbound carriageway of the motorway and that will remain closed all night with crews maintaining a presence on the scene.

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"Cooling operations [involving the cylinder] that have been carried out throughout the day have reduced the risk, thereby enabling us to take a decision to open the railway and the opposite carriageway of the road.

"With cooling continuing through the night, we will be looking at the situation again at 7am with a view to disposing of the cylinder, recovering the van and re-opening the A12.

"In the view of all the agencies working together, this is the most appropriate option to take to maintain public safety.

"Before we took the decision to re-open parts of the road, officers conducted a wet test on the cylinder which indicated a reduction in heat in the cylinder and the inherent risk of explosion. However, for safety sake, we have decided it is appropriate to maintain cooling throughout the night."

Police marksmen had been on standby and at one point there was a possibility they would shoot the cylinder to end the risk of explosion - a technique which has been successful abroad but has never yet been used in the UK.

Throughout yesterday, motorists were diverted through Stanway and Lexden, resulting in heavy traffic in Colchester. Traffic also built up on other routes, including around Braintree.

The Ford Transit van involved in the fire - ironically, belonging to Essex Fire Service - was carrying a portable welding pack containing a 9kg oxy-acetylene cylinder and was on routine station visits for general servicing and safety checks.

After the blaze, a 200-metre safety cordon was placed around the vehicle at Eight Ash Green, near Colchester.

The exclusion zone also covered the main Ipswich to London railway line.

A spokeswoman for train operator One said trains were suspended between Colchester and Witham and a bus replacement service put in place.

Those travelling from Ipswich and Norwich to London were urged to go via Cambridge route.

Divisional officer Justin Johnston added: “We are doing everything we can to try to reduce the impact of this incident on the travelling public, but safety must be the driver in any decision we take.

“We are liaising with other agencies and industry specialists to consider all the options available to get the A12 open again in the quickest possible time without putting the public and our own teams at risk.”

More updates on this website soon.

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