Snowfall in South Africa is no longer a ‘˜once in a lifetime’ possibility. In the past two years, the N3 Toll Route has been closed on three occasions for extended periods as a result of snowfall that caused closures in numerous areas along the N3, South Africa’s premier economic arterial.
N3 Toll Concession (N3TC), responsible for the N3 Toll Route from the Cedara Interchange near Hilton KwaZulu Natal, to the Heidelberg South Interchange in Gauteng, has taken the issue of snowfall seriously. N3TC recently convened its annual Snow Protocol Road Incident Management System (RIMS) meeting at the Green Lantern Inn, Van Reenen. At the meeting, the relevant emergency and rescue services formalised plans to deal with possible snowfalls during the upcoming winter months.
A major concern during snowfall that results in a closure in the N3 Toll Route is communication. To address this concern, the parties agreed that a Joint Operations Centre (JOC) will be set up promptly at both the designated areas in Harrismith and Ladysmith as the main point of contact to limit confusion. The intention of setting up the JOC is to centralise communication and ensure a centralised point of contact for all services in the Free State and Kwa Zulu Natal.
Further analysis of previous snowfall closures identified that cross-border communication between Free State and KwaZulu Natal traffic authorities needed to be addressed, specifically with regards to the management of closures; re-opening of the road and traffic flow.
In the event of heavy snowfall, the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) and other relevant law enforcement authorities will, dependent on the conditions, with safety being their primary focus, keep one lane open northbound and southbound for traffic to flow and to mobilise emergency services to patients who may require medical attention.
Grader operations within the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal have been confirmed and will be on standby to remove the snow from the road surface timeously, weather conditions permitting. Currently, graders are the only resource available for the removal of mass snow in South Africa. At the same time it is essential to limit ice build-up on the road surface and the graders assist in doing this.
Van Reenen’s Pass has historically been the most affected by snowfall. In the event of snowfall affecting the Pass, a Forward Control Point (FCP), which refers to the first responding vehicle generally stationed at one point, will be established at the top of Van Reenen’s Pass. However, the FCP may be required to move from one affected area to the next, to ensure that resources are available where needed.
In trying to maximise and enhance communication, N3TC has acquired two trunking radios for the Traffic Commanders of the Free State and Kwa Zulu Natal. These trunking radios are connected to all the CCC (Centralised Communication Centre) along the route and to the N3 Toll Route Services Supervisors.
The private sectors, along with relevant Government departments, have been called upon to assist in the recovery and snow removal process. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF), will continue to support and assist when motorists are stuck in the snow and require medical assistance. Humanitarian support from various NGO and Government agencies have been facilitated to ensure that anyone trapped in snow will have access to food, water and blankets, again dependent on the services’ ability to reach the affected individuals.
N3TC is encouraged by the approval granted by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport for the use of quad bikes to reach snow-affected areas. The protocol for this component of the plan is currently being drawn up and, once approved, will assist N3TC RIMS (Road Incident Management Services) to dispatch essential services to stranded road users quickly and easily. Should the Quad Bike Response Unit Protocol be successful, N3TC may be granted the use of quad bikes for other disasters that may impact the flow of traffic along the N3 Toll Route.
“We are encouraged by the enormous support and commitment of the various services along the N3 Toll Route. Without team work and a co-ordinated response plan, it would be virtually impossible to ensure that the flow of traffic on the N3 Toll Route is restored with limited delays in the event of a snowfall closure. We, furthermore, extend our thanks and gratitude, in advance, to all those involved,’ commented Con Roux, commercial manager of N3TC.
“One extremely important component of this plan is the involvement of the local communities and the various accommodation establishments that generously assist stranded motorists with accommodation and meals at affordable prices. Without a cohesive group working together to prevent loss of life, snowfall closures and the extreme conditions associated with them would have a disastrous impact,’ says Roux.
It is extremely important for road users to be prepared for snow during the cold winter months. The roadworthiness of the vehicle is of utmost importance. Road users must ensure that all their lights; mirrors and windscreens are clean and in working condition. Planning is essential; all road users should pack the following in their vehicles prior to departure:
- A properly inflated spare tyre;
- Wheel wrench and jack;
- Jumper cables;
- Bag of salt or cat litter;
- Tool kit;
- Water and food;
- First aid kit; and
- Exterior windscreen cleaner.
When travelling in snow, N3TC urges road users to slow down, switch their headlights on and increase the following distance.
If possible during these conditions, road users should delay their journey until it has been declared safe to travel.
Radio stations and N3TC’s Twitter feed – @N3Route – will provide constant updates in the event of snow affecting the N3 Toll Route.