Cones Hotline put into cold storage

The Cones Hotline, butt of comedians' jokes, is being quietly allowed to die, to be replaced by a more general information service on likely hold-ups on major roads and motorways.

The Cones Hotline was first announced by John Major at a Tory Party conference three years ago after a spate of delays on Britain's motorways. But far from being a political winner it became an embarrassment after it was revealed that out of 17,000 calls to the service, only five resulted in any cones being removed.

While the original announcement of the service was made with an enormous fanfare, it is going out with a whimper. A memo from the Highways Agency, which is in charge of maintaining Britain's major roads, leaked to Labour's roads spokeswoman, Joan Walley, says the scrapping of the hotline has been "agreed by ministers" but "will not be announced by means of a press notice but will be introduced gradually in order to minimise the cost".

A "defensive briefing on future of cones hotline", also leaked to Ms Walley, says that the hotline has not been a failure: "In terms of grabbing the attention of the public, the Cones Hotline has been a resounding success!" as 83 per cent of motorists who use trunk roads regularly had heard of it.

Ms Walley said that money would now have to be spent "on the unnecessary expense of removing and amending existing roads signs to display yet another phone line which, based on previous experience will be costly, useless and ineffective".

The Automobile Association welcomed the move. A spokes-man said: "The Cones Hotline got off on the wrong foot. It should have been advertised as a traffic and roadworks information line in the first place. Instead, motorists mistakenly thought that they could ring the hotline and roadworks would magically disappear."

The new number is 0345 504030.

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