Salt stockpiled as second big chill sweeps in

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The Independent Online

A further 250,000 tons of salt has been ordered by the Government as it makes last-minute preparations for heavy snowfalls expected to blanket Britain later this week.

Forecasters predicted a light dusting of snow today for England and Wales but heavier snow showers going into Friday, with up to 15cm in parts of Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland.

Coupled with a return to freezing temperatures, there are concerns that Britain's transport network will seize up again, meaning disappointment for online shoppers awaiting present deliveries, and difficulties for families trying to travel as schools break up for Christmas.

Rail firms were contacted by the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, yesterday as he attempted to head off the closures and delays that hit the network during the bout of bad weather a fortnight ago.

A third of train services were delayed or cancelled at the peak of the cold snap at the end of November. Despite the advanced planning, senior figures admit that some disruption will be impossible to avoid. The Southeastern rail firm, which runs some of Britain's most popular commuter routes, has admitted maintaining a good service would "always be a challenge" in any snow.

The weather will also see Scotland's new contingency plans tested for the first time since the resignation of the transport minister.