Managing Safety on the N3 Toll Route
Insights from Media Tour with N3TC
The Arrive Alive Online initiative was recently privileged to be invited to a media tour along the N3 from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg. In this section we would like to share some insights on this tour and why the information gained is important for road safety.
From N3TC: Con Roux, Andrea Visser, Victoria Greeff
Media Agency Frank Speak: Antia Heyl
Eyewitness News: Kgothatso Mogale
East Coast Radio: Shaun Ryan
Trafficnet: Garyth Banwell
Arrive Alive: Johan Jonck
The N3 Route and N3TC
N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) is the company managing and operating the N3 Toll Route between Heidelberg in Gauteng and Cedara in KwaZulu-Natal
Objective of the Media Tour:
To experience first-hand and gain insights on
What happens behind the scenes on a toll route
How traffic and emergency incident management take place
How route management and maintenance programmes are conducted
How toll plazas operate as well as the special plans put in place to accommodate traffic during adverse conditions (such as heavy snow falls in winter, veld fires or emergency road closures).
The aim of this media tour was to share relevant information and provide news and traffic journalists with an in-depth understanding of the daily challenges experienced in the management of this strategic transport corridor linking South Africa’s inland provinces to the Port of Durban.
Interesting facts: Did you know?
The N3 Toll Route spans four provinces - Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Tens of thousands of freight and logistics operators move up and down the N3 Toll Route daily as it links South Africa’s landlocked provinces to the Port of Durban.
Heavy vehicles constitute more than 30% of traffic on the N3 Toll Route.
An average of 58-million tons of freight is carried along this corridor per annum.
Traffic volumes average between 8500 to 13500 vehicles daily and spikes during peak traffic periods can be above 2000 vehicles per hour along sections of the Route.
N3 Media Tour Itinerary
The media tour itinerary made it clear this is much more than a road trip. It was a well-planned event with ample opportunity to engage, question, interview and gain important information to share with a much wider audience of road users.
In the tour group was journalists and reporters who interact daily with travellers along the N3. These journalists and reporters are best able to share information necessary for informed and safe driving decisions along this road.
We would like to share the itinerary and provide some important insights gained from the various stops along the route.
Important Insights on the Management of the N3 and Road Safety
Heidelberg Traffic Control Centre: Overloading
With heavy vehicles making up 30% of road traffic along the N3, the Heidelberg Traffic Control Centre is a very important component in route maintenance and the prevention of overloading. This is a compulsory stop on the route with all heavy vehicles weighed before they are allowed to continue along the route.
We were introduced to these operational activities and witnessed several vehicles passing through the Control Centre. Some important observations:
Not only has the total vehicle mass have to be within the limits [56ton], but also the weight on each axle needs to comply with legal requirements.
The most significant damage to roads occurs when a truck travels with an excessive load on a specific axle.
The personnel in the control centre record all the details not only about the weight carried, but also that of the operator and the nature of the load carried. [During our visit many of these loads were coal]
The busiest days for heavy vehicle traffic are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
When the total weight or the weight on a specific axle does not comply the vehicle is moved to a section of the facility where it must be corrected or moved to a new truck before the load is allowed back on the road.
Both the first overloaded [or incorrectly loaded] heavy vehicle and the vehicle sent to transport any of the load found to be exceeding the limit will have to go through the Control Centre again.
De Hoek Toll Plaza
This stop was one of the most insightful. It may be my history in reading law and working in the compliance environment but this revealed in no uncertain terms the attention to detail in management of the N3 Route.
Judy van Es, CEO of the Tolcon Group, delivered a very informative presentation on how management of the toll route is audited, control mechanisms, compliance requirements etc.
A very important aspect mentioned is that this adheres to the strictest of international criteria.
Inspirational has also been the focus on community and employee development and the success stories of individuals who started as toll booth operators and who are now part of management and administrative structures within the group. The keyword = Pride
The media was then taken to witness fist-hand the workings of a toll plaza. None of us have ever been in a tunnel underneath a toll plaza - a rather unique and informative experience. Of interest as well was to see the various security and safety systems forming part of the toll plaza where vehicles pass through the plaza.
Observations from this visit:
There are layers and layers of compliance requirements, protocols and checklists. This data is compared between the various toll plazas.
Strict compliance, analysis and auditing contribute to a well- run operation.
There is a zero tolerance approach to safety and sound financial management.
Money is transferred via a drop-down system and extensive security systems are in place.
[It remains sad that despite the hard work of the toll booth operators we were informed that they very often are the victims of verbal abuse and rude behaviour from our drivers. ]
Road Rehabilitation and the N3TC Route Control Centre
As we travelled towards Harrismith, Con Roux explained the road rehabilitation that is performed daily along the N3. There is a focus on continuous maintenance. As Con explained, road users are often frustrated when they come across road works but need to understand that there are basically 2 options – either maintenance or potholes.
The focus is on continuous maintenance instead of having to re-build / construct.
The objective is to maintain a free flow of traffic and not have Stop/Go’s.
This is usually done by closing off a lane and not both lanes in the same direction. This is also limited to a specific length of road and thereafter there must be about 3km of “undisturbed” road to allow traffic to smoothen out.
Attention is also given to traffic during peak times of year to ensure that road rehabilitation is suspended during these times.
Controlled fire breaks are performed along the road to reduce the chances of veld fires endangering road users.
At the N3 Route Control Centre we were introduced to operators who form the heart of the operations in times of crisis. These personnel assist those stopped during road closures as well as those who call for assistance in road crashes and other roadside emergencies. They are working 24/7 in 12 hour shifts making assistance possible at any time of the day and night.
The range of services varies from finding overnight accommodation to sending out route patrol vehicles to assist those in need along the route.
When driving along the N3, it is important to note the contact details such as the 24/7 Customer Careline: 0800 N3 HELP | 0800 63 4357
Important safety information is also available on the website www.n3tc.co.za
Know how to read the route markers along the route. By providing the details on the route marker the control centre can send the route patrol vehicle closest to your location to respond to the emergency.
The route patrol vehicles have the Ctrack system installed, allowing the operators at the control centre to identify exactly where they are on the route at any specific time.
The control centre operators are continuously monitoring social media on the route - you can assist by tweeting your observations [not as driver while driving] and including the twitter handle @n3route.
During our overnight stay at the beautiful Oaklands at Van Reenen we were given the opportunity to reflect on the day and continue our questioning during a delightful diner. We were accompanied by Neil Tolmie , CEO of the N3 Toll Concession.
The itinerary of Day 2 was of significant importance to the media. The day started with information sharing on emergency preparedness for disasters, dealing with most of the queries to the media on the “worst case scenarios” and “what ifs?” when something goes wrong!
We met the team responsible for Snow and Disaster Management Preparedness and were able to discuss their challenges and gain insights on how they respond to emergencies and the equipment that they use.
Of interest was that it is not only snow during winter presenting a threat but also the heavy winds at Van Reenen.
Important information for this day dealt with
Management of road closures during bad weather
Emergency response during crashes and incidents caused by acts of nature
Traffic enforcement to prevent threats to road safety
Public private partnerships along the N3 for safer roads
Community Medical Services (CMS) Help Centre
At this centre we were introduced to Philip Hull, manager of the Centre. He has for many years been one of the heroes at Van Reenen. On the Arrive Alive website we have often mentioned the sterling work done by Philip and Petro Kruger [Road Safety Foundation] during Easter, the winter months and the festive season and it was indeed a pleasure to meet Philip.
[Unexpected, but sincerely appreciated, was the kind words by Philip towards the Arrive Alive website and our work in raising road safety awareness]
Much goodwill from Philip and his team of volunteers have assisted numerous people trapped, stranded and injured in the Van Reenen area.
Public private partnerships make a significant contribution towards safety with companies such as Imperial, Netcare, Emer-G-Med and others prominent in providing resources and other assistance.
Many individuals also contribute their time and expertise to these emergency services.
Assistance includes emergency medical response, help with transfers and accommodation and even smaller but important gestures such as the teddy bear project to console the younger victims in emergency situations.
Philip Hull mentioned that during the night, as soon as it suddenly becomes silent, you know that something has happened somewhere in the Pass...
Tugela Toll Plaza
At the Tugela toll plaza the media was able to interview some of the first responders and gain insight to the emergency vehicles and the equipment used. From here Praveen Sunderlall and Pravesh Ramphal provided invaluable insights to road and traffic management on the southern part of the toll route managed by N3TC.
Much about emergency response is in preparedness and learning from past experiences.
Effective road services require careful analysis of specific incidents and the location of those incidents.
Emergency response vehicles are packed with precision and an extensive range of equipment to deal with a multitude of scenarios.
Careful attention is given to the high visibility of vehicles and uniform of first responders.
Mooi Toll Plaza / Traffic Enforcement and Pedestrian Safety
The southern part of the toll route further away from Van Reenen has different threats to road safety. It is here where we find the reckless speedsters threatening the lives of other road users and especially pedestrians.
Some of the challenges on this route include the difficulties around traffic / law enforcement at night and this is where N3TC has stepped in to assist traffic officials at Mooi River. Some of the most important tools necessary to remove illegal vehicles from the roads such as the “black box” and “laser detector” were shown to the media. During our time at Mooi River several vehicles were stopped and traffic violations addressed.
Further down the road we were also informed of some of the threats to pedestrian safety. Some of the speed enforcement activities are focused in these areas.
[As we were discussing these risks a young lady and her child crossed the freeway a hundred metres further down the road]
Public private partnerships are important to assist in traffic enforcement.
Technology can be a highly effective tool in the hands of the trained traffic officer to identify and remove illegal and stolen vehicles from our roads.
Traffic officers who stop vehicles that are screened as stolen need to be commended for their bravery.
Pedestrian safety remains a challenge where housing and places of work are split by a freeway/ road from one another.
Late in the afternoon we had time to reflect on some of our observations at the airport in Pietermaritzburg. I believe that we are all in agreement that the N3, as and where managed by N3TC, is in good hands [and minds].
We will all continue to provide the necessary alerts and information required by road users on this route via our different portals – Only this time with much more awareness of what we are saying, reporting and tweeting!