Salt plan to beat winter snow chaos

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The salt supply chain for highway authorities must be made more resilient, according to David Quarmby whose committee has just produced a report into the road chaos caused by snow last winter which is reckoned to have cost about £1 billion.

Local authorities needed to increase their precautionary salt stocks, suppliers needed to respond more flexibly to demand, while the rail industry could further enhance its service reliability in bad weather.

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The report is entitled “The Resilience of England’s Transport Systems in Winter” and   Quarmby, a former president of the Institute of Logistics and chairman of the committee, said there were two key messages for all highway authorities and transport operators:

* to co-operate in planning for severe weather, so that there is a cohesive transport system for the public even if it is a reduced one – for example, that the route to the rail station, or the link to the motorway and the port, is a priority for gritting, and boundary issues – “who grits the bus station?” – are sorted out well in advance

* in severe weather events, to use fully the latest technologies and media to keep road and transport users well informed with timely and accurate information.

Quarby was joined on the committee by Brian Smith who has just retired as executive director, environment services of Cambridgeshire County Council, and Chris Green, the former chief executive of Virgin Trains.

They were asked by the then transport secretary, in March 2010 to review the winter resilience of England’s roads and transport systems, based on the experience of the winters of 2008/09 and 2009/10, and to make recommendations to improve resilience for the future.

LCP Consulting carried out most of the analysis and modelling regarding “Salt and the supply chain”. This included a number of key recommendations:

* The review of best practice and technical standards recommended in the Interim Report as a task for the UK Roads Liaison Group should be given added urgency, focusing on research which would underpin recommendations for the adoption of lower salt spread rates as a strategic initiative to improve resilience of the salt supply chain; together with a timescale for adoption in early 2011.

* The two main UK suppliers should be encouraged to continue their current initiatives to increase their throughputs – Cleveland Potash with its exploration of imports to meet high demand from its customers and to replenish its own mine stocks; Salt Union with its plans to increase throughput of the underground crushing and grading plant – as a means of increasing total mine output rates.

* A new resilience benchmark of 12 days/48 runs should be adopted for pre-season stockholding for English local highway authorities; they should then review their
history of usage and mutual aid or other arrangements to consider:

a) whether there is a case for increasing capacity towards 48 runs if it is currently less than this, in addition to filling the capacity they have; or

b) at what level to stock – at or above the 48 runs level – where the capacity exists to do so.

* To ensure optimum resilience of the supply chain through a nationally severe winter, achieving benchmark resilience levels across Britain by the beginning of November should be treated as the key priority, facilitated where necessary by imports. The year-round monitoring system being put in place will analyse and overview this process and enable any future shortfall to be addressed.



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