Do you want your fleet to carry more freight per delivery, reduce your costs per tonne-kilometre and, in the process, generate lower emissions? Why not, in the words of 1987 hit by Marrs, “Pump up the volume”? This is all achievable through road trains in certain EU countries, high volume trailers or the creative use of swap bodies.
A road train, land train or long combination vehicle is a truck and trailer combination that is used in rural and remote areas of Australia, Europe, and the USA to carry freight over long distances. The road train includes a tractor unit and typically tows two or more trailers. [source: Wikipedia]
Road trains are part of the landscape of the Outback in Australia. Australia allows the world’s longest road trains of up to 53.5m, pulling three or more trailers, to operate on dedicated, strictly regulated roads to supply provisions to remote towns and villages in Australia’s vast and sparsely populated hinterland. [source: Lindholmen report] Maxine Taylor, one of the few women road train drivers, describes her life vividly, driving 800 km daily, pulling four trailers, in temperatures of 48 degrees centigrade in a report for Volvo. Road trains take longer than normal trucks to maneuver and come to a halt. They are so imposing that car hire companies even advise their customers on what to do if they encounter a road train in the Outback. [source: Thrifty]
Back in Europe
Europe is more densely populated than rural Australia or the USA so truck and trailer combinations of up to 25.25m long are permitted only in Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and on some roads in Norway. Elsewhere the limit is 18.75m and, in Norway, 19.5m [source: Wikipedia]
Extending the length of a truck and trailer combination can have a significant impact on savings as a 2011 study by the University of Huddersfield, UK shows. It reported that “the fuel consumption and carbon emissions per unit of load decrease by between 11% and 19% (on a per pallet kilometre basis) [when moving from a standard-length UK articulated lorry, 16.5m long with a maximum gross weight of 44 tonnes to a “heavy capacity vehicle” 25.25m long with the same gross maximum weight]. Transport costs are found to decrease by approximately 19% on a per pallet kilometre basis.”
This type of cost-benefit analysis is prompting more research across Europe. In Finland, the city of Tampere is experimenting with a tractor truck powered by a 2,000 horsepower hydrogen engine pulling a semi-trailer and two trailers, a total length of 55 meters and a maximum laden weight of 120 tonnes. [source: Kuljetnus 04.01.2017]
In Sweden, the Forum for Innovation for Transport initiated a project in 2013 to prepare a designated road network by 2030 to accommodate road trains 32m long, equipped to carry up to 90 tonnes. This will involve strengthening roads, ramps and bridges to carry the increased loads and building specially adapted drop-off warehouses to enable smaller vehicles to carry out last mile deliveries. The issues for adoption of road trains are similar to those for platooning and autonomous trucks.
Reception to road trains is lukewarm in more densely populated EU countries such as the UK. In 2010, the EU passed a directive that allowed trucks of up to 25.25m long on the roads in Europe. In 2009, the former UK transport secretary Ruth Kelly rejected these trucks, concluding that they were unsuitable for British roads. At the time, the UK’s Road Haulage Association said “They are part of the future. In the meantime, longer trailers would make a big difference.” [source: Guardian] Meanwhile, the UK Government has been running a test scheme, due for completion in 2022, on articulated lorries up to two meters longer than the existing ones. [source: FTA]
Increased future capacity for EU trailer fleets?
In February 2018, Inge Vierth of Nordic Roads and Transport Research said “The maximum weight in Sweden is 64 tonnes, and in Finland, it totals 76 tonnes, which can be compared with the rest of the EU, where lorries can weigh a maximum of 40 tonnes… There are now signs indicating that the 40 tonne limit in the rest of the EU countries will be raised.” [source: Nordicroads] So if and when this happens, this will present fleet operators from other European countries with additional opportunities to carry greater freight volumes.
There are several alternative solutions to carrying more volume including the deployment of high volume trailers and swap bodies, which TIP Trailer Services can offer on a rental or leased basis.
High volume trailers
The double-deck trailer is a classic type of high volume trailer enabling one driver to carry greater loads using an existing tractor unit. There are two types of double-deck trailers:
- Fixed deck trailers have the highest load capacity, in weight and volume. However, they are only compatible with delivering to stores and warehouses that have external lifts. There is a variant on the fixed deck trailer, one with a tail lift. The tail lift has limited capacity and hence unloading is slow. This variant is best suited to multi-drop routes.
- Moving deck trailers are very flexible with an upper deck which can be hydraulically lifted up or lowered during loading and delivery. This is a heavier solution than the fixed deck trailer because of the need to include the hydraulic lifting mechanisms. The hydraulics make the powered deck more expensive than the fixed deck. The moving deck trailer is ideal for products which do not double stack and, when loaded on a pallet, do not weigh more than 650 kg in total.
Swap bodies are one of the standard freight containers for road and rail transport and, with some creative planning, ideal for transporting increased volumes of freight.
1:2 truck trailer ratios
Running fleets on a 1:1 truck trailer ratio is standard practice at many transport companies. However, it is also worth considering a 1:2 truck trailer ratio, using what is sometimes referred to as a “drop-and-hook distribution” strategy. In this case, drivers drop off one swap body at a delivery dock and then drive away with another loaded swap body trailer. TIP has collaborated with some of its clients to implement this model with great success. Based on this experience, TIP has devised precise calculations which enable fleet managers to deploy their current driver pool with a greater number of trailers.
This solution is a variation of the 1:2 truck trailer ratio approach. With trailer warehousing, you spread your own or rented swap bodies between different warehouse locations so that your drivers can drop off a swap body for unloading at a delivery point and then drive away either with another swap body or to the nearest trailer warehouse on their route to collect a new trailer, either loaded or empty. With both high-volume trailers and swap bodies, drivers can maximize their driving time by not waiting around for unloading.
For more information on how TIP Trailer Services can help your fleet pump up the volume, please contact us using this form.