Pressing The BRB

Living as we do in central England, we’re not very far from the middle section of the M6 Toll. In fact, within six miles of home, we have a choice of two junctions via which we can either access or leave the UK’s only toll motorway. 

However, at £11.80 for a one-way ticket, we find it prohibitively expensive to travel one half or the other of its smoothly tarmacked length in the Knumptywagen, opting instead to use a particularly tedious (but far cheaper) stretch of the A5 to go north, or a dual-carriageway stretch of the A38 when headed south.

Which saddens me deeply, since I was the person who actually opened the M6 Toll. 

Do you want to read that again? 

Your esteemed yet humble author actually opened the M6 Toll. 

Not quite single-handedly, I admit, but as near as dammit when the moment arrived – at 10:10 hrs on the 9thDecember – a cold and slightly misty Tuesday morning back in 2003 (when it would have cost a mere fiver for our motorhome or a van.)

At the time, I was a working member of a local event-management company and we’d already been involved with our client Midland Expressway, the private company which owned, built and would operate the new road on a 50-year lease.

Thus, sometime in early November 2003 we were briefed on the requirements for the opening and its attendees – comprising national and local press; Minister for Transport Alistair Darling; Police; Road Haulage chiefs; Health & Safety Inspectors; VIPs; Midland Expressway staff and management; estimated total about 120 people. Actual date to be advised (on 24 hours notice), all sworn-to-secrecy and all highly confidential.

Oh, and yes, can you sort out a gathering place and a viewing/ filming/photography platform for the nation’s media at Weeford, please, adjacent to the southbound Toll Plaza. And almost by the way, can you also come up with a clever way to open the UK’s very first toll motorway, pretty-please? 

Well. As you’ll know if you’ve travelled it, rites of passage are granted by barriered toll-booths where, in exchange for a fee paid by either cash or card, the barrier is raised and the vehicle proceeds. So there wasn’t really much to play with except the moving barriers themselves. With a total of 10 booths spanning the carriageway, it seemed to make most sense that we arranged each barrier to be raised in sequence across the entire width of the road. Simple.

Given that Alistair Darling would need to feature prominently, we built him a plinth with a shiny steel pillar topped by a Big Red Button, which he would push with aplomb to signify the official opening of the road. This would be the cue for the operative in Toll Booth One to raise their barrier, whereupon the immediate neighbour would raise theirs, thence onwards. Barriers would thus be raised in a sequential salute to the arriving horde of traffic which the Police would hold back with a rolling roadblock, out-of-sight towards the new road’s confluence with the ‘old’ M6.

Since no-one trusts a politician to do what they’re supposed to do (along with some technical issues which I won’t bore you with right now) it was deemed expedient that The Rt. Hon. Alistair Darling’s Big Red Button would work most efficiently if it was wired-up to absolutely nothing. Instead, to commence the barrier-raising sequence, we would use a proven, nifty little hand-held wireless radio-cue transmitter which our Midland Expressway client (let’s call him Mr B) would press simultaneously with Mr D’s pressing of the BRB. After extensive testing, this would be the method for a clear, electronic signal to be sent to the first booth, thus setting the barrier sequence into motion.

So it was that, on the actual chilly misty-morninged day, I attentively positioned myself alongside client Mr B on our own little plinth with our own, carefully plotted uninterruptible line-of-sight to the BRB. But as The Rt. Hon. Mr D began his spiel, Mr B – experiencing a sudden onset of abject nervousness at the magnitude of his task – bottled-out and fumblingly passed me both the transmitter and the ultimate responsibility. 

And so, as Mr D did indeed pronounce the M6 Toll open and pressed his BRB, it was actually me who discreetly pressed the transmitter-button, setting in motion the planned and timely opening of the M6 Toll. A slowly-rolling truck and car convey, ably escorted by a perfectly-timed phalanx of Police cars, thus processed through the barriers to sully the virgin tarmac of the UK’s first and only toll-motorway, and we all went home to get warm.

If only I’d had the foresight to ask for a free lifetime pass.

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