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Watch: 200 more electronic eyes for traffic control centre

Early detection of problems means quicker resolution

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

The 32 cameras on which Transport Malta relies to keep a careful eye on the roads will soon be boosted by another 200.

Transport Malta, which has a fundamental role in seeing that roads are safe, is also ensuring that when accidents do occur, action can be taken immediately.

The regulator’s traffic control centre was making a difference, manager Norbert Grech said, taking a recent incident as an example: a bus skidded last Wednesday and blocked two lanes of traffic on the Regional Road.

It took Malta Public Transport half an hour to remove the bus, and the traffic was back to normal just 15 minutes later, even though the accident occurred during the rush hour.

The traffic control centre informed the police immediately but also dispatched enforcement motorcyclists, who were able to divert motorists before they got to the area, Mr Grech said.

Inside the traffic control centre. Photo: Chris Sant FournierInside the traffic control centre. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The variable messaging system was also programmed to send out alerts, and messages were also put out on the Malta road traffic update app and on Transport Malta’s news portal.

“Our job is to spot the problem, ensure appropriate stakeholders are alerted to it and deal with it as fast as possible,” Mr Grech said.

Still, he reckons that it could go even smoother.

“The problem is that we are such creatures of habit and even if we are told that a road is blocked or that traffic is heavy, we still like to use our traditional route,” he lamented.

A case in point was recent works on Triq tal-Balal: no fewer than eight variable messaging screens warned of the road works, and yet few people opted for detours, Mr Grech remarked.

Our job is to spot the problem, ensure appropriate stakeholders are alerted to it and deal with it as fast as possible

The idea of a control centre was first mooted three years ago and it was opened a year ago, though it only started operating on a 24/7 basis this July.

Its work entails 32 cameras, with eight for each of the four regions monitored continuously, allowing immediate action once a problem is spotted, whether a collision, breakdown, obstacle in the road or even a medical emergency. Another 200 are expected to be installed in the near future, thanks to EU funding, enabling Transport Malta to monitor more roads than just main junctions.

The staff sits in the hushed environment at the base of the A3 towers in Marsa, squinting at their screens for long periods, and are expected to act fast once something happens.

A bus blocking the Regional Road. Photo: Silvio MifsudA bus blocking the Regional Road. Photo: Silvio Mifsud

The centre is very often the first to alert the police and the emergency services, including the Civil Protection Department, but it also ensures that the transport watchdog’s enforcement section dispatches its four motorcycles to divert traffic before it gets to the spot and also deal with vehicles already trapped by the backlog.

However, the centre also has other, more mundane tasks: inputting all road closures and accidents on its 27 variable messaging system screens – three more are being tested – and updating its news portal, information from which is, in turn, used by radio stations. Its free-phone (8007 3399) also receives and disseminates information.

The court was also increasingly focused on recorded footage in the event of accidents or crimes, Mr Grech noted.

The centre is already a victim of its own success and will soon move to Sa Maison to accommodate its extra resources.

This might give it the opportunity to host the emergency services control room, with which it has a natural affinity, he explained.

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