Gritters at ready after severe weather warning

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Hundreds of gritting lorries and snowploughs are on standby to prevent chaos on roads and rail when severe weather arrives in Britain next week.

Emergency operations are being finalised amid forecasts that temperatures will drop as low as minus 8C from Monday, followed by heavy snow.

The Highways Agency was forced to improve its procedures after it failed to deal with severe winter weather almost a year ago, which resulted in gridlock on major roads in the South-east despite warnings from forecasters.

The Highways Agency, which is responsible for 5,100 miles of England's motorways and trunk roads, has told its contractors to treat roads for the "worst-case scenario". An agency spokeswoman said: "Over the past year we have tested and retested our winter service plans. The public should be assured that all motorways and trunk roads will be pre-salted."

Network Rail will have 90 specialised trains ready this weekend to plough or blow snow out of the way and a team of engineers will be checking automatic heaters at points to prevent freezing.

The cold snap is expected to begin tomorrow in Scotland, spreading southwards, bringing snowfall to parts of England and Wales. By Tuesday there will be a risk of heavy snow across the UK.