Mack sets sail riding the rail

It could be widely agreed that road and rail transport have been in fierce competition against each other throughout Australia for the better part of the last century. 

However, some innovative planning and building, such as that which has gone into Matt Tennant’s Mack Trident Hi-Rail Tipper, combines both road and rail componentry into a flexible and versatile transport solution.

Matt oversees the operation of Tenex Rail, which undertakes rail maintenance works across a wide part of southern Australia from its base at Seymour. 

The 2019 Trident has been custom-built with rail gear behind the axles to operate on railway lines hauling sleepers and railway ballast and is the only one of its kind in Australia. Matt had the Trident loaded up on the back of another Tenex Rail Mack and on show at the Kyabram Mack Muster earlier this year, with the dual-purpose vehicle drawing plenty of attention.

Looking for versatility and a rail-road vehicle capable of taking on heavier payloads in his operation, Matt conceived the development and build of the Trident with the co-operation of the Mack factory and Aries Rail in Perth.

“It was designed by myself and built in collaboration with Aries Rail,” Matt explained.

“Mack came to the party and designed the cab – chassis to how we wanted to accommodate the rail equipment. The exhaust, transmission airlines and electricals were all modified or moved in-house on the production line by Mack. 

“To get them up clear of the chassis rails, Mack also pre-drilled holes in the chassis to Aries requirements so everything would fit straight on.”

While the progression from concept to reality was around a 12-month undertaking, the process of getting the Mack work-ready was fairly quick, even with the truck having to be shipped across to Perth to be fitted out at the Aries Rail factory. 

“Mack worked pretty closely with Aries sharing the designs and so forth. The rail system was pretty much 90 per cent built on the floor in Perth, the truck was sent over there and fitted out in around two weeks, so it was under three weeks getting it over there and back to Victoria for delivery,” Matt said.

Matt Tennant with his custom-built Mack. Image: David Vile

The rail gear is gauge convertible so it can run on both the Victorian broad gauge and NSW standard gauge networks. Along with the rail gear, Aries fitted the Trident with a tipper body which is designed to manage a variety of material, particularly ballast and sleepers, and has a three-way tip function (left/right and rear) along with a several chutes in the rear tailgate to place the ballast right where it is needed.

Given its ability to ‘ride the rails’ makes for an interesting driving experience in a few different ways and as Matt explained it requires a different mindset to operate as opposed to driving ‘on road’.

“On rail the steer tyres are elevated about 300mm above the rail head, you put the truck into gear and off you go, you don’t steer and don’t touch the steering wheel, the bonnet sits up pretty high and proud, you go along doing the regulated speed. 

“It is a weird sensation to just be going where the rails take you – your brain is saying ‘I need to be steering’ but you just can’t touch the steering wheel. If you run through a road crossing with a bit of high asphalt or something and you’re holding the wheel it might grip and potentially derail you, so it’s a matter of keeping the wheels straight.”

Another point to consider is the fact that doing this type of work the Trident spends as much time going backwards at a steady speed as it does travelling forwards between stockpiles and work sites. 

“You get loaded at a crossing with ballast, and you may have to back in a kilometre or may have to do ten k’s to the tip-off point and then drive back out to reload, so virtually 50 per cent of the kilometres showing on the odometer have been done in reverse!” Matt said. 

“The M-Drive transmission offers four gears in reverse so you can do your mid 30s [km/h] quite easily without revving the guts out of it. Out on the road with 535hp we can tow a tag trailer behind it with a bit more weight on it and get around the countryside – it can tackle the hills with ease.”

While the project may have been a costly one to get off the ground Matt reckons the savings add up given the other machinery and equipment he runs as part of his business. 

“Previously, we were using an Hydrema articulated dump truck which have their place, but the beauty of this is it can haul a 20-tonne payload which is double that of a Hydrema, and you can drive this to site with a Hydrema on a trailer behind and have two vehicles doing the work of three. Or you could be doing little ballast jobs and head out in this with a loader on the trailer and pretty much be self-sufficient and not needing a float to shift a loader and articulated tipper from site to site.”

The Tenex Rail operation works throughout Victoria, up into NSW and across to South Australia and has a strong connection to the Bulldog breed, with the Trident being hauled to Kyabram behind a 2019 Super-Liner. 

“That one is build #86 of the 100-year Mack Anniversary specials, before that we had another 685hp Super-Liner,” Matt said.

“Prior to that we had a ‘98 model CH Fleetliner, so have been with Macks for a while.  I’m currently restoring a 1987 Super-Liner at home which is in the rebuild phase at the moment – I’m finding my feet with it, but people have been really helpful with advice and parts and so forth.”

Needless to say, the Trident is proving its worth, and the vehicle is an example of turning an idea into a successful outcome and Matt is justifiably proud of the result. 

“It’s the only one built by Mack and delivered as a ‘rail-ready’ so it’s a one of one. Both Mack and Aries entertained my crazy ideas and they have pretty much knocked it out of the park – it ticks all the boxes.”

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