THE A1(M) has reopened after a tanker carrying a leaking hydrogen cylinder was safely cleared from the road.

The northbound carriageway of the A1(M) was closed at junction 63, at Chester-le-Street, due to a hydrogen leak in a broken down tanker in the early hours of this morning.

In the last few minutes specialist engineers confirmed it was safe to move the wagon and the sliproad, below, was reopened.

The Northern Echo:

Rush-hour traffic was brought to a standstill approaching the Blind Lane interchange, just north of Chester-le-Street, with the entire stretch to Washington Services, junction 64, closed to traffic pending a clear-up and removal of the affected hydrogen cylinders.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service (CDDFRS) had warned that it could remain closed for several hours and the southbound stretch between junctions 64 and 63 may need to be closed when a chemical clearing team reaches the scene.

The Northern Echo:

The affected lorry has been confined to the slip road just north of the Chester-le-Street interchange pending the arrival of the specialist engineers.

Alternative routes via the A167, A693 and A195 have been suggested for northbound traffic, but each of those was soon affected by the build up of traffic.

Police twice had to extend the road closure back to Junction 62, at Durham, for safety reasons due to a number of motorists making dangerous manoeuvres in order to avoid the traffic. 

Traffic is now moving but roads in the area remain busy.Earlier today, Highways England said: "The vehicle contains nine cylinders of gas, one of which has a crack and is leaking, and the only way to safely allow it to disperse is to let it vent.

"Emergency services believe the other eight cylinders have been affected and it will take several hours for them to vent.

"The tanker can’t be moved during the venting process as it would present a fire hazard.

"Highways England is working closely with the emergency services, and an exclusion zone has been set up by the fire service.

"Drivers are advised that diversions are in place as the closure is expected to still be in place throughout rush hour.

"Exit at J63, take the 2nd exit onto the A693 west.

"At the next roundabout, take the 3rd exit and join A167 North Road. Continue north until Vigo Lane. Turn right and join Vigo lane east until the A195 (Western Highway). Join A195 west and follow to re-join A1(M).

"Southbound traffic is not affected and can continue as normal."

The Northern Echo:

But Rob Cherry, group manager for CDDFRS, said once the chemical clear-up operation begins it may be necessary to also close the southbound stretch of the A1(M) between Washington and Chester-le-Street.

"Due to the nature of the gas itself we can't just decant the gas itself.

"It requires a specialist team and it could take one, two, three hours or more."