Monday, September 5, 2011

Cargo By Rail Freight or Road Haulage? That is the Question

Trucks Could be Made More Versatile
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – Freight by its very nature will always depend to some extent on the delivery truck. Whether it be the express parcel van or a tail lift artic the end user can expect to see a driver at the door albeit now days with a hand held RFID terminal not the previously favoured clipboard – trains simply can’t deliver door to door.

The recent race between the Commercial Motor and Railways Illustrated magazines from Daventry to Glasgow resulted in a victory for the Mercedes Benz articulated truck, despite the legal hours of service breaks required, proved that even in a simple logistical exercise the haulage vehicle could more than hold its own.

That said these days everyone in the supply chain is looking to cut emissions, or should that be costs? In fact most realise the advantages of both and one way that many envisage will prove a solution, at least in part, is via rail freight which of course already figures large for most bulk cargoes around the world.

Is there however a happy medium which we have somehow been missing? Perhaps an avenue left unexplored which the logistics professionals should at least be examining? In fact as usual, if one looks hard enough there are those around the globe who make it their job to explore transport methods which are thus far being neglected.

One school of thought believes that the best solutions are bespoke, that Is to say that each geographical area and each variety of trade demands a particular solution, not simply one adapted from the ‘norm’. With this in mind many countries are studying the way we build and operate freight delivery trucks, particularly in areas where rail infrastructure is poor, distances vast and the cost of improvements prohibitive.

Many countries, particularly the less well off, fit this profile and now studies are underway into Performance Based Standards Compliant Vehicles, that is to say those trucks specifically designed to carry more tonnage whilst causing less damage to the environment. In South Africa for example the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research undertook a series of trials funded by two companies with a vested interest in just this type of transport, Mondi and Sappi, both involved in the paper industry, just the sort of consignments which can be heavy yet sensitive to multiple handling (anyone who has put a dent in a roll of kitchen foil or shrink wrap will understand the effect of a fork truck blade mark on a one tonne reel of paper).

Basically such tests involve upscaling trucks way past the standards allowable in any given country. In Britain for example we saw the furore when haulier Dick Denby dared to introduce an oversize truck and trailer into the UK but realistically a few rule changes would mean such vehicles presented no problems provided they were confined to that part of the road network deemed suitable. The South African vehicles tested ranged up to twenty seven metres with total gross weights of sixty seven and a half tonnes, over eleven tonnes beyond the norm for the country, yet perfectly feasible given the nature of the terrain. In addition the larger vehicles have been shown to be demonstrably less debilitating to road surfaces, an argument overlooked, ignored or simply disbelieved by objectors to their implementation.

The increased payloads offered do not provide a complete and greener alternative to rail freight but they would lower the number of trucks currently on the road and, in the right circumstances, offer a cheaper and more efficient solution than rail freight where it involves the employment of a road based vehicle for collection/delivery.

An analysis of the South African study claims that the axle unit loads of the vehicles tested are completely compliant with current legislation despite their length and that the average payload estimated, 48 tonnes, would mean up to 2,000 fewer trucks employed than at present if utilised in the country’s coal industry alone with, of course, a comparable reduction in fuel and emissions.

More and more countries are following the South African example and taking a new look at how vehicle design can be used to reduce pollution both on the roads and in the atmosphere following the lead of countries like Sweden, where the hauling of timber has meant the development of trucks capable of pulling vast weights as standard and Australia where ‘road trains’ are a familiar sight to combat the huge distances involved.

With the fresh look at truck sizes coupled with all the work currently being undertaken to produce more ecologically friendly lorries and vans added to the essential nature of the door to door service required for most consignments the ubiquitous delivery vehicle is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future even if a successful driverless format is ever achieved.