World-first electric gritter to clear snow on Queensferry Crossing

The world's first electric gritter is to be deployed on the Queensferry Crossing this winter.

The 18-tonne vehicle will join a 213-strong winter fleet to battle snow and ice across the trunk road network, transport secretary Michael Matheson announced today.

He said: "We have more winter plant this year than we have ever had.

"Improvements have been put in place to ensure we are as well prepared as we can be, and we are trialling some innovative new technology to see if we can make our fleet more environmentally friendly.

"Industry experts will no doubt be intrigued at the operational performance of the new spreader."

Lancashire-based NRG Fleet Services, which supplied the gritter, said it would be tested for the first time on Queensferry Crossing and adjacent Forth Road Bridge, used by buses and taxis.

Chairman Sid Sadique said the electric spreader was based on technology already in use in electric bin lorries in Manchester and London.

He said: "The level of interest in Scotland in this is immense, particularly because of climate change."

NRG will also trial electric lorries with 11 Scottish councils in January, including for refuse collection and food delivery.

Mr Sadique said the electric spreader had a range of some 150 miles compared to around 300 miles for traditional diesel-powered ones, but had similar overall costs.

Its batteries take four hours to recharge.

There will also be trials of new weather stations and sensors on the M8, and pre-wetted salt in lower concentrations on the A835 to Ullapool in the north west Highlands, following its widespread use in Austria.

Mr Matheson said salt "barns" were full with nearly 550,000 tonnes, and another 226,000 tonnes in stockpiles at Leith and Rosyth.

A total of 354,000 tonnes was used last winter, which Mr Matheson described as "unexceptional".

It was milder than average, albeit with some snow in January and February.

The total salt deployed was less than half that used in the snowier winter of 2017-18, which included the "Beast from the East" that blanketed Scotland in its heaviest snowfall for 20 years.

Mr Matheson said: "[Salt] suppliers have adequate production in place for restocking over the winter."

He said the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency was also liaising with councils over action in case there was bad weather at the general election on 12 December.

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However, he said flexibility in bad weather preparations was vital because of climate change.

He said: "Flooding and high winds are becoming more prevalent."

Low temperature concerns

The IAM RoadSmart motoring group said the new gritter would have to prove itself in freezing conditions.

Neil Greig, its Scotland-based policy and research director, said: “Winter preparations are becoming more important every year as our weather gets more unpredictable.

"An electric gritter is an excellent idea but it will be interesting to see how it performs.

"Low temperatures have a huge impact on battery performance, so it is vital back-up systems are in place if the new kit should run out of charge quicker than expected."

Road policing chiefs warned drivers that even minor crashes could bring roads to a halt.

They urged motorists to ensure their vehicles were prepared, such as checking lights and tyres were in good condition.

Chief Inspector Darren Faulds said: "Small bumps can bring the strategic road network to a halt and make it impassable for all.

"If you choke the network, nothing can flow, including new gritters."