On the road with gritting stalwarts

Derbyshire County Council gritter driver Neil Johnson washes down his vehicle after finishing his gritting route.

Derbyshire County Council gritter driver Neil Johnson washes down his vehicle after finishing his gritting route.

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As most of the county sleeps tight during the cold, winter nights, selfless staff at Derbyshire County Council are working round the clock to keep roads clear and safe.

This week, as this winter’s arctic blast continues to hit Derbyshire hard, I laced up my boots and swapped the office for a gritting cab to see how council staff are working hard to keep the county moving.

A line up of Derbyshire County Council gritters at the authority's Stonegravels depot.

A line up of Derbyshire County Council gritters at the authority's Stonegravels depot.

To get the whole experience, I opted to accompany one of the council’s gritter drivers on the early run, in the dead of the night.

With temperatures predicted to drop to freezing overnight, the council’s stand-by gritter drivers had been called in to pre-treat primary routes before residents took to the road in the morning rush.

The drivers, who volunteer to be on stand-by for gritting during the winter months, can be called in at 4am often multiple nights in a row. Each one does this as well as their normal working hours.

After arriving at the depot workers report to a supervisor who shows them their planned route before they fire up their vehicles, which are already pre-loaded with salt.

A control panel in a Derbyshire County Council gritter.

A control panel in a Derbyshire County Council gritter.

Taking me round, gritter driver Neil Johnson, a council street works officer by day, explained that often people don’t realise the crews have been out and about, as most people are asleep during precautionary night time routes.

“People often wonder why we have drove away from some roads, but often we have already done them. It all comes together when you see how it works,” he added.

Continuing, the council stalwart said that the main priority on night-time routes is getting roads salted properly, ready for when traffic builds up in the morning.

During the route, which took around three hours, we saw very few cars, and even less pedestrians, and with the gritters often driving on un-treated roads, Neil explained that it is important for them to drive as carefully as possible.

The heap of grit salt at Derbyshire County Council's Stonegravels depot

The heap of grit salt at Derbyshire County Council's Stonegravels depot

“We’re treating un-salted roads and the grit is behind us, it’s not protecting us,” he said.

“Driving these gritters is like driving anything else, you have to drive slow and steady.

“The council does treat the roads, but other drivers should still think about it and drive with caution.”

A member of Derbyshire County Council’s highways team for 36 years, Neil is regularly on stand-by when bad weather hits.

'Spreading' - the back of a Derbyshire County Council gritter lorry during a run-out on a 4am gritting route.

'Spreading' - the back of a Derbyshire County Council gritter lorry during a run-out on a 4am gritting route.

Despite often being out during the night, he said that him and others are often hindered on their routes by badly parked vehicles that stop some roads being treated.

He said: “I understand it can be difficult, but people need to make the carriageway as clear as possible so the council can do the best possible job.

“Whenever people get stuck on the road it stops us getting salt down and getting everyone moving.”

Derbyshire County Council sign on the side of a gritter.

Derbyshire County Council sign on the side of a gritter.

'Spreading' - the back of a Derbyshire County Council gritter.

'Spreading' - the back of a Derbyshire County Council gritter.

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