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Trunk road service area

Amesbury Little Chef
Amesbury TRSA on the A303.

A trunk road service area (TRSA), formerly known as a major road service area (MRSA, not to be mixed up with MSA or MRA, or even the other MRSA), is a facility located along a trunk road (major road). Note that while motorways are a type of trunk road, motorway services are different to trunk road services.

Motorway Services Online lists signposted a-road services, most of which are TRSAs, under Category:A-roads.

There is no requirements for a TRSA, instead the operations at a TRSA are only regulated if it is signed from the trunk road. The rest of this page refers only to signed TRSAs. These regulations apply to the UK only, but we use the term to describe the same facilities in Ireland, and on local roads where "Services" signs are used.

Facilities and Requirements[edit]

As set out in Circular 01/2008, TRSAs must provide at least:

  • Fuel
  • Hot drinks and hot food
  • Indoor seating
  • Two hours free parking
  • Free toilets and baby-changing facilities

Every day from 8am to 8pm, except for Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. They are limited to two adjoining premises.

Due to their smaller size TRSAs are not as heavily regulated as MSAs, but when a large TRSA is proposed it's expected to follow similar rules, such as the discouragement of rear accesses.

Spacing and Locations[edit]

TRSAs are not allowed in urban areas as it is thought that adequate facilities would already be available. This applies to any road with a speed limit of 40mph or less.

Outside of urban areas, TRSAs should be 14 miles or 30 minutes (whichever is the lesser) apart, unless similar unsigned facilities are already available. Where a site is located on one side of the road it will only be signed from the other side where adequate provision for traffic has been made.

Like MSAs it's up to the developer to find a suitable site for the TRSA, but Highways England are encouraged to find stretches of roads which could benefit from a new service area. This is sometimes achieved as part of a route management study (RMS), where Highways England look at the performance of a particular road. In 2010 Highways England published a review of all trunk road facilities, and made suggestions for some of them to be upgraded or signposted.

Unlike with an MSA, the government have always tried to have as little influence as possible on TRSA designs, preferring the work which private developers had already done.


A modern TRSA at Derby.

Until the motorway network began to be developed, it had always been a given that roads would have restaurants, hotels and petrol stations along them wherever they were required. Kings Worthy is a very early example of a TRSA as we know it today, but at the time it was just considered to be a convenient facility.

Once motorway services had become established facilities, they inspired unofficial examples to be built on new dual carriageways. The Department for Transport started to use the 'motorway services' sign to signpost these, and in the 1980s a green sign was introduced and started to be widely used.

The largest classic examples are:

Most of these were bought by Granada in the 1990s and then sold off as they weren't deemed profitable. Today, most TRSAs consist of a Little Chef and Travelodge, set up by Granada who once owned both brands.

In recent years, as trunk roads have got busier, operators have looked back at trunk roads as potential gaps in the market. Examples of recent larger TRSA developments include:


Weyhill west forecourt.jpg
An abandoned petrol station on the A303.

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Many TRSAs were built where a motorway crosses a major road, in the hope that they could attract motorway traffic without having to meet the requirements of a motorway service area. As the motorway requirements were relaxed, the owners became richer and/or motorway traffic grew, many of these sites were able to apply for motorway signing without having to go through the full process to become a motorway service area. Examples of this are at Chieveley at the M4/A34 junction, Blyth at the end of the A1(M) and Pease Pottage on the M23.

When a trunk road is upgraded to a motorway, TRSAs are usually compulsory purchased and demolished. Occasionally the government (pre-1992) or a developer (post-1992) will argue that the new road needs a service area, and if possible a new MSA will be set up in roughly the same place, which is what happened at Gretna Green.

In 2008 a section of the A74 was upgraded to M6, narrowly avoiding Todhills. Although no case was made for it to become a motorway service area, it was agreed that it could become the first of a new generation of rest areas.

Sometimes a road will be realigned as traffic levels change, with the new road avoiding an existing TRSA. Where this happens the owner will try to see signs from the new road pointing to their site, but if for whatever reason this can't happen, they can apply for compensation.

On the other hand, as TRSAs are less regulated than MSAs, it isn't uncommon for new companies to drop in and out. If a TRSA completely closes, their exit will be closed off and any plans to use the site for something else will normally be rejected.

Road Signs[edit]

Since 2002 TRSA signs have been in black-on-white, and are explained in detail on the A-road Signs page.