Features & Interviews

True grit: a look at winter commercial vehicles

03 February 2022 #Features & Interviews

Gritters and spreaders are often hidden from view for large periods of the year – however they are some of the most vital vehicles on Britain’s roads, clearing them of snow and ice.

In recent weeks, gritter crews have been leaving depots around the country to brave the cold weather, and are putting low-emission technology to use to improve air quality and reduce CO2.

Among the organisations and local authorities that have invested in the latest gritting trucks is National Highways, which is deploying 120 brand-new vehicles from Cornwall to the Midlands and across to East England this winter.

The 26-tonne Euro VI Volvo FE chassis mounted with Romaquip Ultima II gritters are equipped with new automated spreading technology, which enables safe and accurate spreading at a speed of 50 mph.

The new gritter fleet is part of a two-year roll-out that will cover the country with another 132 vehicles for the winter of 2022-23.

National Highways has 1,300 specially trained gritter drivers and a total of 535 gritters available this winter, with 127 depots based at strategic points across its network in England.

Duncan Smith, Acting Executive Director of Operations at National Highways, said: “The new vehicles are an impressive sight and this year’s roll out once again demonstrates our commitment to keeping drivers safe throughout the winter months. They include state-of-the-art technology allowing us to treat the roads 10mph faster than earlier models.

“When the wintry weather arrives, our winter teams across the country will be ready to work around the clock to keep traffic moving.”

Gritters usually operate in harsh environments and need to be cleaned regularly, as the salt they carry can easily corrode the metal of a truck.

All Romaquip gritters are supported by the manufacturer’s mobile support engineers, based across the UK, who provide full technical on-site support and product training.

Econ Engineering, based in Ripon, North Yorkshire, manufactures 85 per cent of winter maintenance vehicle bodies seen on the UK’s roads.

The specialist manufacturer recently won a contract to supply Transport for London with 33 gritters for its new seven-year Highways Framework contracts, covering Central, North and South regions of the capital.

A joint venture between Tarmac and Kier, which won a North contract, hired 13 gritters through Econ’s own Contract Hire Fleet Services. These will be run on hydrogen and hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) fuel, which can be used in any diesel engine and is 90 per cent cleaner than using pure diesel.

FM Conway, contractor for the South London region, hired nine gritters that were fitted with its Map A Route (MAR) system, which shows transport managers the route length, route efficiency and anticipated loads. This in turn allows them to select the right vehicle for each route.

All the vehicles meet the Direct Vision Standard (DVS) 360-degree visibility standard and come with a five-camera safety system.

Jonathan Lupton, from Econ Engineering, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen by all three TfL contractors as their winter maintenance vehicle partner of choice.

“In addition to selling gritters, we also have an extensive hire fleet, and two of the three TfL framework contractors have chosen to go down this route.”

Elsewhere, some organisations are beginning to utilise hydrogen and electric technologies for their gritting operations. ULEMCo and James A Cuthbertson have developed a mix of 20 gritter and multi-purpose vehicles for Glasgow City Council, following Scottish government funding through Transport Scotland.

About half of the vehicles have been converted to hydrogen dual fuel, while the rest have been hydrogen enabled from the beginning.

ULEMCo’s technology ensures hydrogen is used in the fuel mix when it can burn most efficiently, benefitting tailpipe emissions.

Amanda Lyne, ULEMCo Managing Director, said: “The environmental impact of large diesel-powered utility vehicles is very high in city centres.

“We are delighted to support Glasgow City Council in its ambition to become Britain’s first zero net carbon city and help to ensure that its entire fleet of 2,000 vehicles is carbon free by the end of the decade.”

Meanwhile, Nottingham facilities management and professional services company Mitie has launched a zero-emission gritting service for commercial use. It features a Maxus EV80 dropside van and attached battery-powered gritter that lasts around five hours on one charge and uses sustainable white marine salt.

Tim Howell, Managing Director of Landscapes at Mitie, said: “When people think about cutting carbon emissions, gritting may not seem an obvious place to start. However, to be truly sustainable, businesses need to consider every aspect of their operations.”

With the British weather notoriously unpredictable, gritting vehicles are a permanent fixture on our road network, and most important of all, help save lives. With the new technology now rolling out, they can also add improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions to their roster of vital functions.

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