Winter Treatment

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:

  • 190 gritters and ploughs, averaging one gritter/plough per 18km of the trunk road network
  • 41 depots providing winter service plant and facilities
  • 40 units for footways
  • 500 Operating Company staff available to undertake winter service duties

For the 2013/14 winter season, 75 new state of the art new gritters have replaced older vehicles and 34 of these new machines are bigger than the vehicle they have replaced and can spread more salt.

Photographs of the types of vehicles we use to help clear snow, storage facilities for salt and a range of other images relevant to our winter service are available on Flickr.

Precautionary Treatments

12 cubic metres pre-wet spreader
12 cubic metres pre-wet spreader
(capacity 15 tonnes salt)

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 76 pre-cautionary treatment routes (20g/m2).

Two new maintenance contracts covering the western half of the country commenced on 1 April 2013, with additional winter service responsibilities for the Operating Companies.

This includes the reduction in treatment times for spreading salt ahead of snow storms from 5 hours to 2 hours. In such events there are 57 pre-cautionary treatment routes (40g/m2) in the western half of 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

Winter Patrol Vehicle
Winter Patrol Vehicle
(9 cubic metres pre-wet spreader,
capacity 11.25 tonnes salt)

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 42 Winter Patrol routes in addition to the 76 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 190 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.


Footway spreader
Footway Spreader

Forty 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, see Winter Decision Making to access the 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.

Specialised Plant and Innovative Solutions

Cutter Blower
Cutter Blower

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.

In order to increase our winter capability and keep Scotland moving throughout winter, Transport Scotland introduced innovative equipment including icebreakers from Scandinavia, inverted V-plough and footway snow blowers.

For treatments in extreme cold, Transport Scotland has developed guidance for the Operating Companies on the use of alternative de-icers that work at temperatures below which road salt (sodium chloride) becomes less effective. The guidance advises the trunk road operating companies on the storage, management and application of a range of alternative de-icers. Transport Scotland has obtained stocks of EcoThaw, Safecote and Magnesium Chloride.

We are now building our experience of using alternative de-icers by trialling enhanced performance specifications for treatments on high altitude sections of the A9.

Ice breaker
Ice Breaker
Footway Snow Blower
Footway Snow Blower
Inverted V-Plough
Inverted V-Plough
Snow gate
Snow gate

Snow Gates

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

Snow gate
Virtual snow gate

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.