Video: Reporter David Bale goes out with a gritting lorry near Norwich
Sometimes it’s not much fun working for Norfolk County Council’s gritting team. You work long hours, currently 12-hour shifts, day after day, and when you expect to get praised, members of the public shout out that you should have done better.
Standfirst: Reporter David Bale went out with a gritter and its driver David Shaw to find out how challenging the weather conditions are.
Part of the problem, according to the council’s Norwich area manager, Grahame Bygrave, is that the average person cannot tell from looking whether a piece of road has been gritted or not.
And as Mr Shaw drove through the villages of Bawburgh and Easton, near Norwich, I could see his point.
Looking out of the cab at the road below it looked as if no gritting had been done, even though a gritter had been out hours earlier.
Mr Shaw, of course, can tell whether a road has been gritted or not. It’s something to do with how much slush is on the road, he said.
And if the lorry starts skidding, then you know it’s not been gritted.
The actual process of gritting seemed to be quite easy. There’s a box in the lorry which tells you how much salt you are releasing. You cannot hear anything in the cab, and I did not realise he was gritting, until he told me.
Each time the county’s gritters go out they use in total between 200 and 250 tonnes of salt, and each run takes about three hours.
The team priorities the A and B roads, and roads into villages, which ensure people can get out.
Each gritting run covers 2,000 miles, about a third of the county’s 6,000 miles of roads.
Mr Shaw seems to enjoys his job, especially as the roads were incredibly quiet yesterday.
All the roads were gridlocked on Tuesday, so it makes a change, he said. On Tuesday there were also plenty of abandoned cars left on the roadside, some even in the carriageways.
It was definitely strange to be sitting up so high in the cab, looking down at the roads, and watching children in bobble hats playing in the snow, as they looked up at us.
It was also strange that Mr Shaw had to keep stopping the lorry because it was getting steamed up, as the windscreen water was frozen. He threw a handful of snow on the windscreen to clean it.
When he’s not driving a gritter, he works for the council as a maintenance man, filling in potholes, etc. That might sound a bit dull, but at least you don’t get abuse from members of the public.
Although, he said, in fairness, on Tuesday, motorists were pleased to see the gritters. He said: “We were working at the hospital, and motorists were very patient, and generally held back to allow us to do our job. Obviously when it’s bad traffic, we get stuck in the queues as well. You do get the odd person who is funny, but you have to deal with it and stay calm.”
As reported, Tuesday was a nightmare for motorists in Norwich, and the gritting team’s problems were also compounded by problems on the trunk roads, which are gritted by the Highways Agency, and by two tress falling under the weight of snow, in Mulbarton and Newton Flotman.
Nick Tupper, highways maintenance manager for Norfolk County Council, who is in charge of its 57 gritters, said: “It has been a very challenging time. We have been out continuously gritting since Sunday. Crews have been gritting at midnight and then 4am, before the majority of people are out of bed.
“On Tuesday lunchtime, when the snow fell in Norwich, we were out gritting, so there was already salt on the roads. The weather forecast was for snow showers, so we were not expecting the heavy snow that fell.
“It did cause problems, but we don’t think there is more we could have done.”
The county’s salt capacity of more than 17,000 tonnes is restocked daily by 1,000 tonnes, when the weather is bad.
As of Tuesday lunchtime, Norfolk’s gritters had gone out 54 times since October and used 10,000 tonnes of salt. Last winter the county’s gritters went out 74 times - between October and April - and used 18,000 tonnes of salt.
The team gets the weather forecast at about 12.30pm/1pm, and they also have 12 weather stations dotted around the county. The lowest road temperature on Tuesday, which the team works by, was -8.2C in Harpley in the west of the county.