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Weather / Early starts and snowy roads for gritting crews in busy week

Meanwhile the Shetland Road Conditions Facebook group has grown increasingly popular in recent days

Photo: Dave Donaldson

GRITTING crews are continuing to have an “exceptionally busy” week as wintry conditions cause difficulties on the roads.

Gritters are often out in poor conditions before many people have breakfast, and staff have had to deal with pretty continuous snowfall over the last three days.

Chair of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) environment and transport committee Moraig Lyall said: “We need to thank them for their commitment to keeping going with their efforts to keep the main roads open and the side roads when possible.

“And also to thank those of our own staff and other organisations who continue to go out in difficult conditions to provide the services that folk in our community depend on.”

She added that council gritters are “having an exceptionally busy week with no let-up in the wintry weather”.

Most schools in Shetland have been shut since Monday due to the snow, and there has been disruption all over – from business shutting up shop to flights at Sumburgh being cancelled.

One particular problem from a transport perspective is that the regular snowfall has often filled in the roads that gritters have gone over.

Meanwhile highlighting the tough conditions one gritter was spotted off the road in Stromfirth earlier today.

SIC roads manager Neil Hutcheson. Photo: BBC Radio Shetland

SIC roads manager Neil Hutcheson said the council has drafted in extra resource in the way vehicles like JCBs to work on side roads.

He said there are 19 gritters in total, as well as a tractor with trailer in Fetlar, and three vehicles which focus on footpaths.

The gritters are double manned, apart from two, and with extra workers too there is around 50 staff involved in gritting across Shetland.

Explaining the process behind gritting, Hutcheson said road inspectors tend to go out about 4am to check conditions although in recent days they have not really needed to do that due to the obvious weather.

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He said gritting crews get to their vehicle at around 5.30am to prepare it and then head out.

“Then they just work to the maximum drivers hours that’s permitted,” Hutcheson said.

“[That’s] 11 working hours, ten hours driving. They just work til the end. Obviously conditions like this when the snow is really coming down we can suspend those hours, but they can work later on.”

The usual set-up is to work til the back of teatime to make sure people can get home safely. Many staff take the gritter home with them.

Hutcheson said due to the conditions this week the team have been concentrating on main roads and loops, but the extra JCBs are continuing to work on side roads.

He reiterated advice to stay safe on the roads and work from home if possible.

Hutcheson said if people do have to travel then they should make sure they are equipped for it, including appropriate tyres and taking a shovel and appropriate footwear.

Meanwhile one resource the community has increasingly used over recent days is the Facebook group Shetland Road Conditions.

The group was set-up by Ryan Mchale-Smith in 2023 after snow in late February.

It now has more than 5,800 people in the group, with drivers sharing their experiences of road conditions across Shetland to inform each other.

Mchale-Smith said he said up the group because he felt it would be a better way than word of mouth to share information about the state of the roads in wintry periods, “but also for any other hazards or issues that crop up on the roads throughout the year”.

“Obviously it has been handy these last few days,” he added. “It’s not an official resource as it is just people’s opinions but I think it has certainly helped a few people.

“I’ve seen a massive increase in group numbers during the last week so I’m guessing people are finding it useful and recommending it to friends and family.

“The more the merrier I say because the more people that join the more of Shetland will be covered.”

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