Efficiencies see gritting fleet cut from six lorries to four this winter

Roads Minister Chris Hazzard launching his winter road safety programme at the end of October.

Roads Minister Chris Hazzard launching his winter road safety programme at the end of October.

The number of gritting lorries based at the Woodburn Depot has been slashed from six to just four this winter but TransportNI says a ‘route optimisation’ exercise that preceded the cut will make the salting of roads more efficient.

TransportNI acknowledged the reduction after the ‘Journal’ was contacted by a source who said the number of vehicles and staff in Derry had been slashed.

The source told the paper that the gritting rota had also been reduced and that following the ‘route optimisation’ there were now fewer lorries completing longer routes.

Since the winter gritting schedule became operational at the end of October this has led to lorries having to return to depot for salt refills mid-run as they don’t have salt capacity to complete some of the new routes fully, the source said. The ‘Journal’ put this to the Department of Infrastructure , which acknowledged there are fewer lorries in the city this year but denied this is leading to problems.

“With the aim of making the gritting operation more efficient, TransportNI carried out a ‘route optimisation’ exercise across the north which involved a review of existing routes and lorry usage as well as facilities for storing materials and plant,” a spokesperson said.

The Department said a report arising from this recommended new more efficient routes to minimise the number of lorries, whilst keeping the time taken to grit the roads to a minimum.

“As part of the route optimisation project, gritter lorries have been redeployed across TransportNI’s depots with staff then matched to these revised routes. Importantly there has been no change to the roads included on the gritting schedule, it is simply that the operation is being delivered more efficiently,” the spokesperson added.

The Department said there have been some examples of top-ups taking place but generally this has not been the case.

“The ‘new’ routes will deliver a reduced treatment time for all roads to a maximum of 3.5 hours with 94 per cent of all routes being completed within three hours. In addition almost 80 per cent of all priority routes (Trunk Road Network) will now be completed within the first hour. In the past some routes took almost four hours to complete. While there have been a few instances of lorries having to top up, due to a variety of reasons, the additional time taken to complete the routes has been minimal with routes generally still being completed within the 3.5 hour timescale.

“All of the changes arising from the route optimisation project will be kept under review.”