Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Written evidence from the Freight Transport Association (AWC 23)

1. The Freight Transport Association is one of Britain’s largest trade associations, and uniquely provides a voice for the entirety of the UK’s logistics sector. Its role, on behalf of over 14,000 members, is to enhance the safety, efficiency and sustainability of freight movement across the supply chain, regardless of transport mode. FTA members operate over 200,000 goods vehicles - almost half the UK fleet - and some 1,000,000 liveried vans. In addition, they consign over 90 per cent of the freight moved by rail and over 70 per cent of sea and air freight. FTA works with its members to influence transport policy and decisions taken at local, national and European level to ensure they recognise the needs of industry’s supply chains.


2. The freight industry is heavily reliant on the transport infrastructure that it uses performing to a consistently high standard. Distribution networks, delivery routes and schedules have been designed to achieve availability of sufficient goods at the point of consumption by business or consumers without the need for extensive and expensive stock holding. Operators build resilience into their operational planning to accommodate regularly encountered journey time unreliability and seasonal changes in network performance. However, distribution systems suffer significant disruption when severe weather (high winds, snow and ice, flooding) affects the performance of the transport network.

3. The disruption caused by the snow and ice in December 2010 was particularly acute and much more widespread and enduring than the severe winter weather in January 2010. In January 2011, FTA surveyed members to establish the impact of the two periods of winter weather1 Only 17 per cent of members reported no backlog to deliveries in December 2010, compared to 28 per cent reporting no backlog following the January 2010 snow. The average backlog was just over three days in the winter weather in December 2010 compared to just over two days in January 2010. Sixteen per cent of operators surveyed had backlogs of over five days in December 2010, compared to eight per cent in January 2010.

4. Fifty-two per cent of operators surveyed said that the disruption to scheduling and routeing of vehicles in the December 2010 snowfall was significantly greater than January 2010. A further 40 per cent said that the disruption to scheduling and routeing was slightly more in December 2010. The greater operational impact of the snow in December 2010 was compounded by the snowfall occurring in the busy run-up to Christmas.

Impacts on the road and rail networks in England and Wales

Motorway and trunk road network

Disruption to the UK’s National Trade routes

5. The Highways Agency generally kept the motorway and trunk road network running during the period of snow in December 2010. However, operators reported that, in their experience, gritting operations were less effective than in January 2010. A balance of 18 per cent of respondents believed that gritting of motorways was less effective, and a 29 per cent balance said gritting of trunk roads was less effective.

6. There were several occasions in the December 2010 snowfall when the motorway network in England faced extensive problems. These occurred on M25/M20 (junction 3) and M5/M42 (junction 4a). There were common factors affecting both incidents. In both cases there was a large amount of snowfall on an exposed stretch of road, which had compacted into ice. This made it difficult to clear. Both involved long hills towards the junction and then long slip roads, creating the potential for loss of traction over long distances. As a result, jack-knifed lorries were a key element to the traffic disruptions. Questions have been raised by the Scottish Government, following the disruption to motorways in the central belt of Scotland caused by the December 2010 snowfall, as to what more the industry can do to prevent lorries jack-knifing or losing traction and the extent to which winter tyres could be used by operators during periods of severe winter weather.

7. In January 2011, FTA undertook a survey of its members to establish the extent of incidents where hgvs have lost drive axle traction or lost control of the vehicle2. Responses were received from 82 operators, the results of which are summarised below:

Vehicle type

Number of incidents of loss of driver-axle traction

Number of incidents of jack-knifing

Number of other incidents involving loss of control (skilled etc)

Rigid up to 12t gvw




Rigid over 12t gvw








8. Members reported that where jack-knifing incidents did occur, a key contributory factor was poorly treated road surfaces. Any additional focus by industry in tackling this problem needs to be supported by a mapping exercise by Highway Agency that identifies areas of the network which present the greatest risk of articulated vehicles jack-knifing, and the appropriate levels of gritting and ploughing needed to maintain those sections in an operable condition.

9. Of those members responding to the survey seven per cent currently use winter tyres in their operations. Most only fit these tyres to the vehicle’s drive axle. Members reported that winter tyres cost around 20 per cent more to purchase. Of those who currently do not fit winter tyres, the main factors preventing their use are fitting costs (downtime for swapping tyres over) and storage costs of tyres not in use and greater tyre wear rates for winter tyres. FTA believes that it should remain an operational decision on whether to fit winter tyres, rather than it being required under legislation. In Germany, where winter tyre legislation is in place, a winter tyre order was invoked on 4 December3. Dealers quickly ran out of stocks, pushing up winter tyre prices and creating disruption for operators over and above that resulting from the snow.

10. The Scottish Government also suggested banning hgvs from the road network during periods of severe winter weather as a way of reduction disruption. FTA opposes such an approach. If, as a result of snow and ice, a stretch of road is unsuitable to traffic, then it should be unsuitable for all traffic, not just hgvs. As noted in paragraph 13, of this submission, hgvs can have a positive effect of winter maintenance activities by grinding the salt into the road surface and improving its effectiveness.

Disruption to regional trade routes

11. Operators reported problems passing stretches of motorway, such as the M58, which are lightly trafficked. This resulted in the Highways Agency closing a lane in each direction to ensure sufficient traffic on the remaining open lanes in order to effectively grind the salt. FTA believes that the Highways Agency’s operations management team responded effectively when these problems were identified.

12. On several stretches of exposed trunk road, the Highways Agency considered using convoys of lorries to assist with the clearance of the road. Under this scheme, Highways Agency incident support vehicles (including ploughs and salting vehicles) would convoy hgvs. The heavy vehicles would then be able to grind the salt into the snow making surface treatment more effective. Such an approach was considered, but not implemented on the A1 and A30 (Dartmoor). FTA members would be prepared to support the Highways Agency in trialling such an approach in future where vehicles are available.

Local roads

13. Similar to motorway and trunk roads, members reported that the gritting operations on roads controlled by local highway authorities were less effective in December 2010 than in January 2010. However, the balance of respondents reporting a deterioration was much greater, at 49 per cent. As was the case in the snowfall in January 2010, the main problem encountered by operators in December was that the relatively short stretches of road connecting depots to the motorway and trunk road network did not receive sufficient priority in local authority gritting plans.

14. Whilst local authorities had sufficient salt, the early snowfall compared to recent winters meant they did dot have sufficient resources (people and equipment). When the local roads frequently used by hgvs were finally gritted, their recovery period was slow as the snow had compacted to ice in the sustained period of freezing temperatures.

Impact on the UK’s airports, including the extent to which lessons were learnt from winter 2009-10

15. Airport ports are key modal interchange points for high value, time-sensitive freight carried either in the belly holds of passenger aircraft or dedicated ‘freight only’ aircraft. Relatively few airports are key freight hubs, the principal ones in UK being Heathrow and East Midlands. FTA concurs with the view of David Quarmby’s Audit that individual airports operators will make their own business decisions about the resource that is made available to maintain services during severe weather. However, this does not absolve local highways authorities from their responsibility to prioritise gritting on local roads that provide access to the motorway and trunk road network. Furthermore, Government needs to consider contingency plans for critical airfreight, such as drugs, in the event that major air freight gateways are snowbound.

16. David Quarmby remarked in his Audit that comparisons with resources available in countries more prone to heavy snowfall are no guide to what is economic or sensible for the UK. This is a principle that can be applied to all aspects of transport resilience in winter weather in the UK.

The provision of accurate weather forecasts to transport providers in advance of the bad weather

17. Currently the Highways Agency provides a specific, route-related advisory service for HGV operators when high winds are expected and experienced. A clearly documented chain of events is in place:

Stage 1

Potential for high winds from accurate weather forecasts identified.

Stage 2

Amber Alert warning issued providing operators with information about where the winds are expected, and routes where traffic is at risk from high winds. Alerts are timely and relevant allowing operators to take pre-emptive operational decisions regarding the routeing and scheduling of HGV movements.

Stage 3

Red Alert warning issued to drivers and operators urging vehicles to be parked up.

18. FTA believes that the Highways Authority should be in a position to adopt a similar approach to incidents of snow and ice. This will involve the Agency mapping its network in the light of case history to identify ‘critical spots’ when disruption is likely because of the exposed nature of the road or the geometry of key junctions. As with high winds, alerts must be timely and relevant for operators. In the case of timing, alerts for overnight operations need to be issued by lunchtime and for morning operations by the end of the previous working day, otherwise operators will be committed to schedules. Information on snow and ice will help an operator make informed decisions and may reduce journeys in extreme conditions.

The recommendations of the Quarmby reviews into the resilience of England’s transport systems in 2010

Interim and final reports

19. In many cases, it is too early to say whether actions linked to the recommendations of the Quarmby reviews will prove sufficient. The tone of David Quarmby’s audit of progress, published in December 2010, suggests that the response of the authorities has generally been in line with what was needed. Certainly in the case of the problems of congestion at the salt mines in Cheshire, FTA had no reports of operational problems during the December 2010 snowfall. Similarly, FTA understands that the Highways Agency and local highways authorities were able to manage salt supplies effectively. However, the December 2010 snowfall did identify new problems such as the lack of operational preparedness to wintery weather so early on in the winter.

20. Recommendation 6 of the Interim Report argues that consultation by local highways authorities on treated networks should be broadly drawn, including business representatives and freight transport operators. Whilst industry has sought to influence winter service plans through Freight Quality Partnerships, there has been little proactiveness by local authorities to engage in the consultation process.

21. Recommendation 15 on the Interim Report encouraged the Department for Transport to develop a code setting out good practice for members of the public, including business owners, in clearing snow and ice from footways. The ’Snow Code’ is now available on the Direct Gov website, however, this one page document is focussed on the public and is not what industry was expecting. More advice is needed on self-help for industry and providing guidance on issues such as liability for accidents on property affected by snow. As part of this, Government needs to consider innovative use of private resources such as agricultural machinery that can be commissioned when dedicated snow clearing equipment is overstretched.

Other areas of FTA evidence

22. Drivers’ hours relaxations are crucial during a period of prolonged snow and ice to ensure that goods linked to critical sectors could be delivered during, and particularly post, the worst of the snow and ice. The snow in January 2010 highlighted several supply chains which are put under intense stress, namely:

· distribution of road salt

· distribution of animal feed from animal feed manufacturers to farms

· distribution of de-icer products direct to airports

· distribution of heating oil and liquid petroleum gas (LPG)

· distribution of bulk milk in tankers

23. FTA was highly critical of the Department for Transport’s overly cautious approach to EU Drivers’ Hours Rules and Working Time relaxation in its evidence to David Quarmby. The means of gaining the relaxations were tortuous; often the notification of relaxation was piecemeal and was poorly timed (with little time for operators to implement to best effect). Furthermore the timescale of relaxation was too short in the first instance, requiring subsequent relaxations to be made to provide sufficient time for operators to catch up on deliveries.

24. Lessons learnt from the January 2010 snow meant that once the scale of the likely disruption caused by the snow in December 2010 was evident, the Department for Transport was far more pragmatic about the need for Drivers’ Hours rules and Working Time relaxation. In particular announcements were prompter, the duration of the relaxations was longer - allowing operators time to readjust schedules, and the nature of the changes in relation to Working Time were far more closely aligned to industry’s needs.

February 2011

[1] FTA Quarterly Transport Activity Survey, January 2011

[2] Survey of winter related incidents and use of winter tyres, January 2011

[3] David Quarmby Audit, December 2010