By Shaun Milne and Rory Reynolds
DOCKERS and road maintenance staff were working through their holidays last night in a desperate bid to help Scotland beat grit-lock by unloading emergency supplies of salt.
Crew aboard the Sea Ruby supply vessel sailed through the night on an hour 18-hour journey to bring a fresh supply of 2000 tonnes of salt to Edinburgh’s Port of Leith yesterday.
Workers immediately began unloading the precious cargo – as temperatures plunged to minus 10 in places – onto waiting trucks to help get supplies out to fleets of gritters across Edinburgh and the Lothians.
But with stocks only expected to last a few days, another shipment is already on stand-by to be sailed north, because trucks cannot cope with the treacherous road conditions.
The new supplies come as the AA warned they expect at least four times as many call-outs today as Scotland gets back to work.But the grit will still come as a welcome relief to drivers in those areas lucky enough to be treated.
A spokesman for Cory Brothers Shipping Agency said: “There’s no way this could be taken up by road in the current conditions, particularly in the Borders.
“The crew and port staff should all be in holiday because dockers get the New Year off, but they all agreed to work through because of what it means to people.
“This came from Tees after the Sea Ruby was chartered for a trip with 2000 tonnes onboard.
“It’s being unloaded now and will no doubt be in the roads within a few hours.”
Despite the supply chain from Leith now being in place, lorries still need to transport the grit through up to 50 miles of traffic and slush filled roads to get to the gritter depots.
And road workers have told how the snow and slush is so heavy that they have been forced to leave side streets and housing estates, instead gritting the main roads throughout the day.
Stuart Russell, 45, a driver with West Lothian Council’s road maintenance unit, said: “The public don’t realise, we keep having to redo the main roads from morning to night, so the side roads and estates haven’t been getting done.
“You get a lot of abuse from the public, people flashing their lights and sticking two fingers up at you.
“One day last week we did 600 tonnes in one day, but we’ve been told we won’t run out.”
He also told how workers have been pulling 15-hour shifts to keep the roads from becoming even more treacherous.
He added: “We start at 8am and finish at 11pm, seven days a week, and we’ve been working flat out.
“By the time you’re done it’s home and then straight in the morning again.
“We were out on Christmas Day, we never got any Christmas.
“I’ve not got to see my kids over Christmas – our holidays got cancelled.”
Only yesterday councils in Fife and Renfrewshire warned their supplies were critically low and about to run out, despite the assurances from the Scottish Government that stocks would be found.
Their SoS – send out salt – came just as weather forecasters have warned that there will be several days more of ice, freezing temperatures and more snow over the coming week.
With many Scots also returning to work for the first time today after their New Year break, widespread travel chaos was also expected.
Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, said that the organisation was expecting to face at least four times the number of call-outs this morning as Scots return to work after the festive holidays.
He added that the greatest danger for motorists is presuming that main roads are gritted, or will remain gritted throughout the day.
He said: “We now have a cold spell that is pushing into the third week, which doesn’t occur very often.
“The most dangerous thing is that people are presuming that the main roads are gritted.
“By minus five the grit is not nearly as affective, and by minus 10 it makes no difference at all, the grit simply lowers the temperature that the road freezes at.
“Drivers can’t rely on gritting making a difference in the kind of temperatures you’ve seen in Scotland.
“We expect the number of call-outs be around quadruple what we would normally see at this time of year in the morning, especially in Scotland.
“We would advise people to always prepare to be stuck in very cold conditions.
“You don’t have to be in an accident to end up sitting in the cold for a very long time, and that’s the main thing to be aware of.
“Motorists should ensure they are well equipped before they set out, start their car well in advance, take it up to a normal operating temperature, always ensure your mobile is charged up, and don’t leave your car if you do get stuck.”