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Agency gears up for speedy response to ice

INCREASED DELEGATION of decisions over when to grit roads was this week expected to help the Highways Agency respond quickly to of plunging temperatures forecast for the end of this week.

Agency staff have also beefed up communications with the Met Office in an attempt to improve response times to deteriorating weather conditions on the roads.

Last year drivers were trapped in freezing conditions for over 12 hours on motorways such as the M11 from Cambridge to London after sudden severe snow falls (NCE 6 February 2003).

Gritting lorries and snow clearers were unable to get into position because of jams behind crashed and stalled vehicles.

'We learned valuable lessons, ' said a Highways Agency spokeswoman. 'New procedures and better decision making are now in place along with better contact with the Met Office.'

Decision making procedures on when to send out gritting and salting teams are now more streamlined at each of the Agency's 14 regional centres.

The Agency said 800 gritters and snow clearers were available and it had substantial stockpiles of grit - 15,000t for the M25 alone - at seven 'salt barns'.

All the main transport agencies, including local authorities and Network Rail, said they were ready for the expected cold snap.

Network Rail said its weather strategy team was meeting with contractors and train operators each morning and was ready to declare a 'red alert' day, depending on Met Office forecasts. It has 100 engineering trains for de-icing, snow ploughing or blowing.

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