Big Rigs joins fight for road train access into Perth

We’ve all driven roads where the speed limit seems ridiculously low. We’ve also driven toads that are narrow, country style feeders with soft edges and undulating twists and turns, but the speed limit remains the general 100km/h.

Main Roads departments across the country sometimes have bewildering reasons for speed limits and road restrictions.

The road train rule for the Greenmount Hill, driving into Perth from the eastern states is just one: 36.5-metre road trains with general freight are not allowed down the hill, but pocket road trains which are nine-metres shorter – and several tonnes heavier – are permitted.

Big Rigs has assisted several operators to put a case to the WA Minister for Transport to change the rule and allow the road trains to operate directly into Perth markets, without having to split at the Northam assembly area.

The move would reduce six truck movements to two, decreasing road frequency, noise, fuel burn and of course saving several extra hours in transit time, critical during the COVID lockdown.

Pandemic supply pressure prompted Main Roads in WA to approve a six-month trial with a recognised operator to ensure safety and road suitability concerns would be met.

SA operator HPS Transport was selected as it runs refrigerated produce to WA daily. So far the trial has seen 1300 road train movements on the hill with nine random Main Roads inspections, and one caution for an air leak on a dolly.

HPS Transport’s Daniel Graziano told us that the company had imposed additional standards for the Northam-Roe Highway section of the trek from Adelaide.

“Our in-house driver trainer sat at the top of Greenmount Hill,” he said. “We had already re-trained our people on steep descent practice, but he was there to underline the rules.”

The limit for heavy-duty trucks on the descent is 40km/h, but HPS ruled 30km/h to avoid any chance of overrun.

“We actually instructed our drivers to take 10km/h off the posted limit on all road sections from Northam,” he said.

Telematics data from the road train trucks on that route keeps a close eye, and the data will be critical in determining if this road section will be added to the WA road train network.

At this stage the trial is narrowly aimed at fresh refrigerated fruit and vegetables between Adelaide and Perth.

Main Roads told us that it recognised that the movement of these perishable goods is time critical. Clearly the COVID pandemic and stress on logistics played its part in the decision.

The delivery of essential supplies and pressure from the national driver shortage helped the case, and as the road is already engineered for the turning sweep of a double road train, there is no physical impediment to the change.

Latest truck technology allows a 36.5-metre rig to head down the hill mostly on exhaust brakes and noiseless retarders, with the service brakes as a reserve.

We followed up with Main Roads recently and were advised that the trial had been extended.

“Main Roads has just extended the trial by another six months until May 6, 2021, and findings of the trial will be made public once finalised,” said a spokesperson.

“Main Roads is not aware of any complaints or issues relating to this trial from local residents and continues to work with the approved operator, HPS Transport with support from industry associations such as Western Roads Federation and the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of WA.”

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