Fleet of winter gritters on standby

Chris Hazzard said other projects were more of a priority than the York Street interchange
Chris Hazzard said other projects were more of a priority than the York Street interchange

Local salt barns and gritting stations have been piled to capacity ahead of this winter, Transport Minister Chris Hazzard has confirmed.

A total of 68 staff will be on standby from now through to April to mobilise a fleet of 34 gritters across the Western Division, including across Derry and Strabane.

Additional salt bins and grit piles are also being provided for residents not on the main routes to use on a self-help basis.

Transport officials have reminded local motorists to take extra care while driving as winter approaches as they launched the annual roads winter safety service.

Minister Hazzard said: “Darker mornings and evenings and lower temperatures around this time of year make driving conditions more difficult and I want to encourage all road users to take extra care on our roads this winter.

“While we can’t predict the weather winter may bring, the public can be assured that my winter safety service is now up and running and, whatever the weather, will be working to keep our main roads open.”

TransportNI Western Divisional Manager Conor Loughrey confirmed arrangements for the local area, saying:

“Throughout the winter season from now until the middle of April, we will have 68 staff on standby to ensure the main roads are salted, helping drivers to cope with wintry conditions. 

“Salt barns and stockpiles are being filled to maximum capacity in Western Division which encompasses the council areas of Mid Ulster, Fermanagh; Omagh, and Derry City; Strabane.

“When ice or snow is forecast, we have 34 gritters available which can salt the main network in just over three hours, a massive logistical exercise that costs around £20,000 each time it takes place.”

Transport NI will continue to provide salt bins and grit piles at strategic locations and will endeavour to replenish them during the winter.

The salt bins and grit piles will be for use on a self help basis to help prevent the formation of snow and ice on pavements and untreated roads.

Arrangements will also be in place to enlist the help of contractors, including farmers, to clear blocked roads and TransportNI has introduced enhanced communication arrangements and priority secondary salting to rural schools that are most affected by wintery weather conditions. 

Continuing, Mr Loughrey said: “Heavy snowfalls such as those we experienced in recent winters, highlighted the essential role farmers, agricultural contractors and other plant operators played in helping to clear the roads for the public. During these events many people voluntarily helped out and their assistance was greatly appreciated.

“With their help, many roads blocked by snow were cleared and able to be used by the emergency services, utilities and the public.

“Even with the most careful and thorough planning, the use of special Met Office forecasts and the latest ice prediction technology, winter service is really a battle against the elements and ice-free roads cannot be guaranteed.  Motorists have to play their part by taking extra care during wintry conditions. The best advice is in the Highway Code – drive with care even if roads have been salted, be prepared for road conditions changing over short distances and take care when overtaking gritters.”