Although red tape held up its launch, it was well worth the wait for a proud Flea Nolan when he sent the pride of the fleet – an imposing new FH XXL Globetrotter – on its maiden run to Sydney last month.
The 50,000th Volvo made at the Wacol plant is an eye-catching rolling billboard that stands out from the pack with its hand-painted, scrolls, strips and imagery deftly showcasing the company’s origins back to 1908.
Today, with its Performance-Based Standard (PBS) high-tech split quad refrigerated semi-trailer finally in tow, it’s a fitting testament to how far Nolan’s Transport has come.
“We sort of made the trailer to suit the truck, so it was a very proud moment when it all got together and on the road,” conceded the fifth-generation Nolan, who runs the massive operation alongside mother Daphne and brother Darren.
“I know other companies are out there with the same combinations so it’s not a first for the industry.
“I suppose what is unique is that the trailer came the same time as the 50,000th Volvo.
“It looks smart and I’ve had plenty of people ring me about it.”
Flea Nolan said the truck will run non-stop to Sydney from the company’s Gatton and Brisbane depots, with two drivers rotating on four-days on, four-days off shifts.
Although smaller than the B-double that would normally ply this route for Nolan’s – a 28 pallet capacity vs 34 – Nolan said the FTE designed and built PBS split quad punches well above its weight.
For starters, it’s a lot cheaper to run with its increased fuel efficiency and lower rego costs.
It also trumps a B-double when it comes to turnaround times, and with a mass limit of 55-tonnes, the combination easily has as much payload.
“The numbers should stack up alright at the end of the day considering we haven’t got the cost of an extra van and fridge motor cost,” said Nolan.
“It’s just about trying to eliminate the B-doubles from Sydney without compromising on tare weight, length and pallet spacing. We had a quad 26-palleter prior to this.”
In fact the only knock on the new combination was the inordinate time for approvals, an element he was glad he could handball over to Melbourne-based Smedley’s Engineers.
The only end-to-end PBS consultancy in Australia, Smedley’s takes care of all the paperwork in-house and has worked with Nolan’s on all its previous PBS sorties which include a A-double – two FTE tri-axle trailers spec’d at 22-pallet capacity – and two FTE tri-axle trailers (22-pallet) paired with a Volvo FH16.
The new split quad semi, however, presented a unique challenge all of its own, admits Smedley’s Managing Director Robert Smedley.
With NSW green-lighting PBS access routes in its typically expeditious manner, it seemed just a formality for Queensland to follow suit, until that is someone in a local council got their hands on the paperwork.
“There is a standard called the maximum of difference, which says that the frontal swing of the trailer is not allowed to be .4m greater than the frontal swing of the truck,” explained Smedley.
“The idea is that when a truck driver is turning a corner he can have the confidence that the trailer is not going to collect a telegraph pole, or something like that.
“The funny thing is, most ADR vehicles fail this standard, especially vehicles that do not have a bull bar.”
Accordingly, Smedley said the new Nolan’s pairing was assessed without a bullbar but was given an exemption by the NHVR and TMR because it passed most tests by a reasonable margin.
“But what happened was that one of the local councils in Far North Queensland picked up on this and weren’t happy about it.
“We then went back to them and said this vehicle performs better than any B-double on the road. If this vehicle can’t get around this corner, then you need to stop all B-double going around that corner.
“They just couldn’t see the logic and put the pieces together.
“Eventually the TMR and NHVR coached them through the issue. I’ve got to say the TMR and NHVR bent over backwards to get it to happen.
“The issue was the local jurisdiction not understanding what they were doing; what they were deciding on and the implications of it.
“It was a very hard six to eight weeks.”
Now the first one’s on the road, Nolan is hoping for smoother sailing with the five follow-up split quads he’s ordered from FTE this year.
Although he says he’s “not getting carried away” with the PBS benefits just yet, he clearly sees the upsides.
“I think it’s got its merits,” he said.
“There seems to be less and less drivers in the industry too, so we’ve got to work out how we can do it a lot more efficiently with less trucks on the road, and safer combinations.
“It seems to be that even though the combinations are getting bigger, the safety-ness is still there, if not better.”
The only impediment that Nolan can foresee for PBS uptake is the unnecessary approval headaches, an issue Smedley said is systemic in Victoria.
“If we can get all states on board with this PBS instead of so much red tape the industry would be a lot better,” said Nolan.
“That’s what holds us back. It goes from state to state, then you have all the bridge assessments and all that sort of stuff.
“With today’s technology, it shouldn’t be that hard. It’s about getting food to the plate, and the longer they hold people up from doing things, the less we can cart.”