Behind the scenes of a superload: ‘The extreme sport of transport’

It’s not every day you catch a glimpse of a 477-tonne superload – so it’s no surprise that truckspotters and members of the public alike have been following the progress of an enormous power transformer from Victoria to NSW.

The transformer was carried by a transport combination measuring approximately 125m long and around 5.8m wide, departing from Wilson Transformer Company in Glen Waverly on January 27 and reaching the Waratah BESS Super Battery facility (formerly the coal-fired Munmorah Power Station) in the early hours of February 5.

Dandenong-based transport company Overdimensional Lift & Shift are the ones who made it all happen – one of just a handful of Australian operators who do work of this scale.

The move took months of detailed planning and involved a team of five truck drivers, one trailer driver and four escort drivers from ODLS, as well as road authority escorts, and hundreds of people on the traffic management team.

Two weeks of preparations in the yard were needed before the superload could depart. Image: Roger Knight

The company’s managing director, Anthony May isn’t one to sit in an office all day – so he was there in the thick of it all, at the helm of the superload’s trailer.

Speaking to Big Rigs on the last day of the move, he said: “Everything has gone according to plan. Timewise, it has all happened exceptionally well.

“There have been no incidents and staff, equipment and load are all well.”

May said the superload’s route, which wound through metropolitan Melbourne as well as more regional areas of Victoria and NSW, held quite a few challenges.

“This superload has been different from the others in terms of the distance we are travelling,” he explained.

“The travel out of Melbourne holds similar challenges to the other [superloads we have done], but the regional travel routes have been a little off the beaten path.

“One challenging aspect has been dealing with on-road changes such as roadworks, but in this case they were known about in advance and co-ordinated smoothly between ODLS and the road authorities.”

When there are so many moving parts and the stakes are high, communication is key.

“It’s about working as a team and in unison,” May said.

“After the first two days getting out of Melbourne, everyone really relaxed and got into a rhythm.

“We have a mix of more experienced and newer drivers on this load, and the trip has continued to build the team and brought the new staff closer to the existing group.”

He said you need to be “cool, calm and collected” for work like this – and his wife Vaso May, ODLS’ commercial manager, agrees.

“They really are a particular breed of truck drivers,” she said.

“Becoming this kind of driver is a 10-year plus exercise, you don’t just walk into it. Only very few people are minded that way.

“The guys realise that this is the extreme sport of transport – they are achieving something that is fairly singular.”

Image: Roger Knight

While the transport operation has been around for over 40 years with Anthony’s father at the helm, ODLS started moving superloads eight years ago – and Vaso said business is booming.

“Normally we would only move a couple of superloads a year but they are ramping up.

“We generally move transformers or electrical equipment that’s going into a substation.

“With the move to renewable energy and all the additional substations, the bigger transformers are becoming more common.

“There are not a lot of operators in Australia that will tackle this type of load, and only two of them own their own equipment and use their own staff. So, we’re very busy.”

The superload mostly moved at night to minimise disruption. Image: Roger Knight

Vaso explained that there could be up to a year of lead-in time before moving a load like this, due to all the red tape involved.

“It takes somewhere between six months and a year to get a permit,” she said.

“A lot of oversize roads are managed in an office, tick and flick. These loads are managed a lot in person.

“There are also a lot of high-level planning meetings between us and the owner of the goods. And you also have meetings with VicRoads, you have meetings with power companies, meetings with Yarra Trams, meetings with the metro.

“They consider it a high-risk move so they become very involved.”

It takes two weeks solid of preparations in the yard before the superload can roll out the gate.

“Then when we roll out, we roll out in pieces,” she continued.

“We go to the pick-up destination and then we take another week at the pick-up destination, putting all the pieces together into the set.”

The giant convoy is an impressive sight as it comes off the Easter Freeway and turns right into Doncaster Road. Image: Roger Knight

She said the load has to move at a maximum speed of 60km/h for safety.

“They are quite slow on the roads, and they need plenty of eyes on the load.

“Because of the sheer size of the load, there are people walking alongside it, making sure that it’s going to get over things, making sure that it’s not going to collide or impact with the road furniture along the way.

“We do remove a lot of road furniture as well. In the past, we’ve taken out street signs, traffic lights, lampposts, all kinds of things.

“Anything that’s in the way has to come out, and we put it back in afterwards.”

Loads such as this need the ability to move up and down hydraulically.

“This is necessary because you’re not going to be able to get over every lump and bump in the roadway otherwise.

“There are times when they cross carriageways, they need to go over curbs and gutters and over roundabouts.

“The hydraulic lifting and lowering is managed by the trailer operator and is guided by many spotters on the ground.”

She said that although ODLS has 40 staff, her husband likes to be on the ground when he can.

“He has been in the transport industry since he was 17 and has operated every piece of equipment you can think of,” she said.

“He has nerves of steel!”

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