If you having been watching the news, or worse, if you have been traveling on the M20 in certain areas you may well have come across Operation Stack, but many people are unaware of what it actually is apart from something that causes traffic chaos.
What is Operation Stack
The basic plan behind operation stack is simple. When the channel crossings are disrupted the massive volume of freight leaving the UK has to be put somewhere, Operation Stack basically parks hundreds of HGV lorries on certain sections of the M20 motorway. It was introduced in 1988 and over the years has increased in size to create 3000 “parking” spaces on the coast bound section of the M20 in Kent. The cars and all other traffic is then diverted to the A20 no matter what the volume of traffic is at the time.
What once may have been a sustainable or at least liveable plan seems to be no longer working. The sheer volume of freight and traffic on our roads has increased considerably since 1988 and this comes into sharp focus during the summer months. Between 1996 and 2007 the system was used over 145 days in total and only intermittently since 2007 but as traffic has increased the feelings against this possibly outdated solution to crossing issues has increased massively.
Why is it used?
There are a long list of possible reasons why channel crossings are delayed or stopped. These reasons can be bad weather, industrial action and more recently problems surrounding immigrants trying to board trucks making the crossing at Calais. This last reason has naturally pushed the current use of Operation Stack to the top of the headlines but is that the real issue, does it matter why the system is used?
There are lots of estimates being used to count the cost of the system but a recent figure about this latest use of Operation Stack is breath taking. The system was used in the first 3 weeks of July 2015 at an estimated cost of £700,000 per day for the haulage companies involved and an overall cost of £250 million to the wider UK economy. To say Operation Stack is expensive is a considerable understatement.
It looks like the system will be in use for some time as the only alternatives are not currying much favor with the local authorities. These other ideas would be for Kent Council to buy up a substantial area of land close to the motorway and build an enormous truck park for use when the channel crossing is effected. The other choice is to introduce a contraflow system to at least allow some traffic to still use the M20 during Operation Stack.
Whatever the future holds if you need to cross the channel to get to your holiday destination or for any other reason, plan ahead, be prepared for a traffic jam and be aware that Operation Stack could be in use. If you don’t need to actually get to the crossing then avoid the area as much as you possibly can.