Winter service: Ready for Winter and severe weather
Our winter service operations allow the safe movement of users of the trunk road network and minimises delays and disruption to users caused by snow or ice.
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As the trunk road authority in Scotland, legislation requires Transport Scotland to take such steps as it considers reasonable to prevent snow and ice endangering the safe passage of pedestrians and vehicles over public roads.
Transport Scotland discharges this duty by having contracts in place with Operating Companies who ensure the trunk road network is safe, efficient and well managed.
Each Operating Company's Winter Service Manager has the delegated responsibility for all aspects of winter service provision including:
- Ice prediction and weather forecasting service, including sensor calibration
- Collection and management of weather data
- Winter service decision making
- Plant and communications
- De-icing material stock levels and storage
- Staff and Operative training and rosters
- Inspection and maintenance of winter hardware
- Maintaining records
- Daily and annual reporting
The Winter Service Manager is the owner of the winter service plan for that Operating Company area.
Operating Company winter service plans
Each Operating Company produces their own winter service plan, setting out how they intend to deliver Winter Service Operations between 1 October and 15 May each year. View the latest editions:
- North East Unit Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- North West Unit Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- South East Unit Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- South West Unit Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- Forth Bridges Unit Winter Service Plan 2016-17
DBFO winter service plans
Winter service plans for routes covered by Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO) contracts are listed below:
- Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- M80 Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- M77 Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- M8 M73 M74 Winter Service Plan 2016-17
- M6 Winter Service Plan 2016-17
From 1 October to 15 May, a 24-hour dedicated winter maintenance service operates on all Scotland's trunk roads.
To carry out winter service we have:
- 208 gritters and ploughs, averaging one gritter/plough per 16km of the trunk road network
- 40 depots providing winter service plant and facilities
- 52 vehicles providing frontline footway clearance and treatments
- 500+ Operating Company staff available to undertake winter service duties.
To prevent snow or ice forming, gritters provide precautionary salt treatments to roads, depending on the forecast weather conditions. Gritters are also fitted with ploughs when snow is forecast. There are 92 pre-cautionary treatment routes (20g/m2).
From April 2013 the maintenance contracts have included additional winter service responsibilities which improve treatment times for spreading salt ahead of snow storms from 5 hours to 2 hours. In such events there are 107 pre-cautionary treatment routes (40g/m2) across the country.
The Gritters Winter Salt Treatment Map provides details of planned winter salt treatment across Scotland following the mid-day forecast for that period. You can view all routes for which winter salt treatments are either planned or not planned. Further information is also available relating to the number of winter service vehicles currently active on the network. This information is updated daily.
Winter Patrols are in addition to precautionary treatments undertaken on all trunk roads. Winter Patrols are deployed to monitor conditions, provide salt treatments and plough as required.
Winter Patrols operate on the busiest roads (Category A) and those trunk roads that experience the severest winter weather (Category B) when temperatures are forecast to be low and there is a risk of ice forming. To view the location of Category A and Category B winter patrol routes see the Winter Patrols Routes Map. Patrols operate from early morning through to the end of the morning peak period and at other times of the day when severe wintry weather is forecast, at the discretion of the Operating Company winter managers.
Patrol vehicles are fitted with ploughs when snow is forecast. They are also equipped with mobile road surface temperature sensors. These sensors allow winter decision makers to monitor, in real-time, the road temperate at the location of each patrol gritter.
There are 51 Winter Patrol routes in addition to the 92 Precautionary Treatment routes on trunk roads.
All motorways have a maximum 30 minute response time to winter incidents when the patrols are deployed. Response times for Category A Patrols operating on the busiest trunk roads vary from 30 to 60 minutes.
On all other trunk road routes, when an immediate response is required, a gritter will commence treatment on the route within 60 minutes.
The winter fleet for trunks roads has a total of 208 vehicles available for spreading salt and ploughing. The remaining gritters are available to provide support to the precautionary treatment and patrol vehicles as well as to cover break downs and essential maintenance. When severe wintry weather is affecting the whole country all available vehicles are deployed.
Fifty two tractor ploughs, gritters, pickups and other manual clearance/gritting equipment is available across Scotland for footway clearance and treatment.
For details of footway plants currently active on the trunk road network see Gritters Winter Salt Treatment Map.
Footways, footpaths and cycle facilities alongside the trunk road network are organised into three categories within the winter service plans.
Operating Companies carry out pre-treatment to all category A footways, footpaths and cycle facilities when temperatures are forecast to fall to less than or equal to 1 degree Celsius, or when snow conditions are expected. A combination of footpath spreaders and hand spreading will be used to pre-treat these as required.
Operating Companies clear category A and B footways of snow and ice by 8 am, or within two hours of snow ceasing to fall during the period 6 am hours to 6 pm. Operating Companies also clear category C footways of snow and ice by 5 pm the following weekday.
Operating Companies will allocate resources based on network condition reports received from winter drivers who have been carrying out ploughing at affected locations, or from any other third party report where footway conditions have been identified as requiring removal of snow or ice.
Winter Self Help Kits are available to small communities bordering a trunk road, see the description and application form for details on how to obtain one.
The changeability of the Scottish weather patterns means that even with new and improved methods of winter treatment, ice formation on roads can still occur. Motorists should be aware that there will still be times when motorways and trunk roads will not remain completely free of snow and ice.
For winter salt treatments, roads authorities in Europe and North America are moving more and more to liquid only spreading to prevent ice forming on roads. Recent studies from Europe have demonstrated the durability of liquid brine only spreading in comparison with pre-wetted salt. They concluded that for precautionary salt treatments, especially on dry and moist surfaces that sodium chloride brine only spreading is recommended because it requires less salt and stays longer on the surface.
Therefore, Transport Scotland have promoted research into the durability of liquid brine through the National Winter Service Research Group (NWSRG). The NWSRG is responsible for overseeing and co-ordinating winter service research and providing guidance for central and local government for all roads in the UK.
Trials of brine spreading have been carried out over the previous two winters on the Transport Scotland network. Trials during the 2014/15 winter season were carried out on two trial sites comparing the rate of loss of salt from brine and pre-wetted spreading. Building on these trials, monitoring of routine brine treatments and comparison to equivalent pre-wet treatments was carried out during February, March and April 2016. The principal aim of the work was to assess the effectiveness and longevity of precautionary treatments using sodium chloride brine versus pre-wetted salt for UK climatic conditions and on road surfacing types representative of the wider UK network.
Further trials are being undertaken over the 2016/17 winter season to further develop the understanding of liquid performance in the range of conditions experienced on the Scotland network and will support the development of operational guidance for liquid spreading.
Snow gates ensure that when a road has to be closed, on police instruction, then it can be done in a safe and controlled manner.
This prevents motorists getting stuck and allows snow clearing operations to be efficient.
When the gates are closed, ploughs and blowers are able to clear the snow within the closure until it is felt safe by the police to open the road again.
Virtual snow gate for North East unit
There are currently no physical snow gates in the North East Unit but the 2012/13 winter season saw the installation of a virtual snow gate on the A96 at the Glens of Foudland.
Signs have been erected on the A96 just north of the A920 near Kirkton of Culsalmond and east of the A96 near Huntly.
These signs are being trialled as a concept entitled ‘virtual gates’. The purpose of the signs is to allow rapid notification of a closure of the A96 between the gates. The point of closure is most likely to be at Glens of Foudland which is prone to closure during heavy snowfall.
The early notification will allow vehicles approaching the closed area the opportunity to turnaround and use an alternative route, or alternatively wait at a safer location until the road reopens. Where time permits a physical closure will be implemented to reinforce the warning.
Each Operating Company is required to obtain the services of an expert weather forecasting provider and operate a computerised road weather information system.
This displays data from road sensors, weather cameras, forecasts and weather radar to assist the operating company to make decisions on the deployment of winter maintenance resources.
Expert meteorologists provide daily weather forecasts to the Winter Service Managers from 1 October to 15 May.
The forecasts arrive around midday, allowing daily winter action plans to be prepared by 3.00 pm, outlining pre-treatment arrangements on roads for the next 24 hour period.
Operating Companies monitor forecasts using actual data from weather stations and sensor sites. Further information is also collected by liaising with the weather forecaster, gritter drivers, winter patrols, the police and third parties.
Weather stations throughout the trunk road network relay information to the Operating Companies, including temperature, wind speeds and rainfall. Many of the weather stations have cameras attached allowing decision makers to remotely monitor the locations.
Operating Companies monitor and update this database of information around the clock, with any changes required to action plans being implemented, as far as is reasonably practicable, in advance of adverse conditions.
Where it is not possible to predict adverse conditions, the Winter Service Manager has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that reactive requirements are implemented within the required timescales.
To improve winter managers’ responses and decision making, Transport Scotland invests in innovative monitoring technology including:
- 161 weather stations (76 with camera coverage) across the road network
- All front line vehicles equipped with remote accessible mobile temperature sensors
- Airwave technology - a mobile communications network dedicated for the use by the emergency services. The technology is used in all patrol vehicles to improve communications between control rooms, police and gritter drivers CCTV cameras in gritter vehicles to show real-time conditions.
We keep the public informed using the most appropriate communication methods and modern technologies.
Live travel information during extreme weather is crucial to helping everyone plan their journeys. Keep a close eye on weather and travel information specific to your journey and ensure your vehicle is suitably equipped prior to setting out.
To help you plan, Traffic Scotland provide:
- Live information updates using data from intelligent systems and information our stakeholders
- Full integration with the Met Office, providing weather information in real-time
- Live gritter tracking
- A large network of viewable CCTV cameras and weather stations
- Traveline App for Android, iPhone, Windows and BlackBerry
- Treatment maps, displaying where and when treatments will be carried out, uploaded on a daily basis
- A 24/7, real-time, twitter service - @TrafficScotland
- The Traffic Scotland Internet Radio Service, providing three broadcasts each hour during the peak
- The Multi-Agency Response Team, ensuring any changes to the severity or area effected by the severe weather can be updated and provided to the public without delay.
- A severe weather information strategy, delivered in association with Police, to warn and inform road users when significant disruption to the road network is expected during extreme weather
- Increasing levels of personalisation, targeting specific road users and keeping them informed of winter actions and severe weather events applicable to them
Transport Scotland works closely with the police, Operating Companies and other key stakeholders to prepare for winter.
The Scottish Multi Agency Response Team (MART) works to improve the quality and timing of transport information and co-ordinates the flow of information to the between agencies and the public.
A Met Office representative ensures any changes to the severity or area affected by severe weather can be updated and provided to the public.
MART representatives are from:
- Traffic Scotland
- Transport Scotland
- Met Office
- Scotland TranServ (South West Operating Company)
- Amey (South East and Forth Bridge Operating Company)
- BEAR Scotland (North West and North East Operating Company)
- First Scotrail
- Network Rail
- Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT)
- Police Scotland
- Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (SCOTS)
Collaboration with the Met Office and Police Scotland helps us develop specific Road Travel Weather messages.
During snowy weather, farmers are sometimes drafted in to clear the roads.
We've worked with National Farmers Union and the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (SCOTS) to develop a code of practice that outlines how Local Authorities and farmers should work together to provide this service.
Farmers should contact their local authority if they would like to help out.
Transport Scotland work closely with the police and Operating Companies to improve emergency traffic management procedures, including making the best use of emergency crossovers.
Our rapid response barrier removal crew is available 24-7 to assist the emergency services in the relief of vehicles stationery as a result of major incidents.
We also work with Police Scotland, Road Haulage Association and Freight Transport Association, developed Road Haulier Winter Advice for the proactive management of heavy goods vehicles and other vehicles during severe weather conditions.
Vulnerable locations where the steepness of the road may cause heavy goods vehicles problems have also been identified and will receive special attention by our operating companies and their winter maintenance fleet.
We are an active member of the World Road Association’s Winter Technical Committee, sharing our knowledge and learning from the experiences of other countries.
Scotland's 32 local authorities are responsible for the maintenance and safe operation of Scotland's local road network. Each local authority is responsible for all aspects of the non-trunk road network within their jurisdiction, including Winter Service Operations.
This includes all footways, footpaths and cycle tracks not in private ownership.
While each road authority will prioritise the treatment of their own networks, mutual aid is offered, when possible. This includes the sharing of plant, facilities, labour and salt. Some examples of mutual aid are given below:
- The Highland Council and Bear Scotland in the North West share cargo loads of salt boats, providing cost benefits to both and to the public with harbour facilities located at Kyle, Wick and Inverness
- Scotland TranServ have a partnering arrangement with Dumfries and Galloway through their existing sub contract
- BEAR Scotland work in partnership with Aberdeen City Council in the North East
- Amey similarly have a partnership with Scottish Borders Council in the South East
- A seamless service - Highland Council provide a service to BEAR Scotland to treat footpaths on the basis that if they are already deployed, the trunk road is also treated
Salt Group Situation Report No. 18 – 21 March 2017
- Current stock held by local authorities, trunk road operating companies and in strategic reserve is 450,887 tonnes.
(This compares with current stock at 24 March last year of 411,542 tonnes)
- Salt on order by local authorities and trunk road operating companies is 14,542 tonnes.
(This compares with salt on order at 24 March last winter of 24,678 tonnes)
- Salt being pursued/on order for strategic reserve is 0 tonnes.
- Total for salt in stock and on order is 465,429 tonnes.
(This compares with salt in stock and on order at 24 March last winter of 436,220 tonnes)
- Total salt usage to date is 307,117 tonnes
(Salt used in the last week was 3,491 tonnes).
(This compares with salt usage to 24 March last winter of 379,611)
- National Strategic Salt Stock totalling approx. 83,750 tonnes is currently in stock at various depots throughout Scotland.
- Next Salt Group Situation Report – Tuesday, 28 March 2017.
(Graphs below show current salt stock/usage position compared to the last six winters)
Note: Salt Stock Pile in graph above excludes Strategic Salt
Local authorities can agree to share salt either between themselves or through the local Scottish Coordinating Group. Sharing salt with the Trunk Road Operating Companies should be agreed individually.
Strategic Salt Stock Strategic salt stock is an emergency supply provided to Scottish Roads Authorities and Trunk Road Operating Companies. The stock is stored in Aberdeen, Perth, Stonehouse and Glasgow.
Local authorities will receive salt from the strategic supply when:
- There has been prolonged severe winter weather across the country
- Current stock levels, requirements, location and replenishment schedule indicates a need for strategic supply
- SSG assess your need and defines the salt quantity to be delivered
The supply should not be relied upon to fill gaps in delivery schedules or in the place of mutual aid arrangements arrangements between authorities and/or Trunk Road Operating Companies. Distribution of this salt is at SSG’s discretion.
The winter service includes precautionary salting of all carriageways and the more important footways in advance of forecast ice and snow. Since 2007-08, pre-wetted salting has been used on all four Trunk Road Units.
Pre-wetted salting involves spreading dry salt and brine in the proportion of 70% dry salt to 30% of fully saturated brine with a salt concentration of around 23%. The addition of the brine to the dry salt takes place at the point of spreading and has the following main advantages: Salt requires to go into solution before it becomes effective in preventing ice formation.
The addition of the brine has the effect of reducing, if not eliminating, the time lag before the salt becomes effective after spreading. The brine minimises the amount of dry salt removed from the carriageway by the draught from the spreading vehicles, road traffic and strong cross winds. More salt adheres therefore to the road surface after spreading and this can increase the length of time the salt lasts without retreatment.
The brine ensures that the “ bounce” of salt crystals onto the road side verges during spreading is minimised and that the greater proportion of the salt spread is contained within the carriageway. This leads to reduced corrosion on roadside structures and environmental benefits.
The changeability of the Scottish weather patterns means that even with this new and improved method of precautionary salting ice formation on roads can still occur. Motorists should be aware therefore that there will still be times when motorways and trunk roads will not remain completely free of snow and ice.