Unchain B-triples to drive productivity gains: NTC

Governments urged to think nationally on B-triples to usher in “a quantum leap in productivity and safety”

Unchain B-triples to drive productivity gains: NTC
Unchain B-triples to drive productivity gains: NTC

By Brad Gardner | August 29, 2011

Governments are being urged to think nationally and break the regulatory shackles on B-triples to usher in "a quantum leap in productivity and safety".

The National Transport Commission (NTC) wants governments to implement a national network for modular B-triples and agree on single vehicle specification and operating conditions in a move expected to deliver significant gains.

Capable of carrying more freight per load and fitted with leading safety features, B-triples are seen as a key plank in boosting productivity and helping industry meet growing demand. But in a discussion paper released last week, the NTC says restrictive and inconsistent state and territory laws are constraining the vehicles to intrastate instead of interstate operations.

It proposes granting 12-axle modular B-triples of up to 35 metres access to the type 1 road train network as a first step in a long-term priority goal of opening up inter-capital eastern seaboard connections to the higher productivity vehicle.

The NTC estimates its proposal will slash CO2 emissions by 1.1 million tonnes, reduce truck numbers by at least 1,000, prevent 25 fatalities and generate $1.1 billion in savings between 2011 and 2030.

"As the approved B-triple network is expanded, the benefits are expected to become greater than those reported here," the NTC says.

"Not since the broad introduction of B-doubles has Australia had a similar opportunity to impact so positively on the road transport industry’s triple bottom line."

A proposal five years in the making, the NTC says governments must end inconsistent regulations to realise the productivity and safety benefits of B-triples. Queensland currently permits B-triples to operate on its type 1 network, while South Australia limits operations to a basic inter-capital route.

NSW, cited in the discussion paper for its restrictive regulations, has a limited network and requires B-triples to be accredited and monitored under the Intelligent Access Program (IAP). The NTC says Victoria only allows B-triples to operate between the Ford factories in Geelong and Broadmeadows.

"B-triples will not be able to flourish as a national road freight productivity solution until such inconsistencies are overcome," it says.

According to the NTC, B-triples operating on road train routes can deliver a 10 percent payload increase over A-doubles, and 9 percent fewer trips. The report goes on to say B-doubles formed from B-triples can offer a 61 percent payload mass increase over semi-trailers formed from A-doubles.

With 12 axles spreading the weight of the vehicle, the NTC says B-triples will deliver 16 percent less pavement wear than A-doubles on road train routes. On B-double routes, the NTC says the three-trailer combination will reduce pavement wear by 21 percent when compared with semi-trailers formed from A-doubles.

"This is where the true potential for B-triples lies – in enabling a quantum leap in productivity and safety of the kind that B-doubles brought when introduced over the past 20 years," the NTC says.

The discussion paper, which has been released for public comment until September 30, sets specific conditions for an acceptable B-triple, including a maximum length of 35 metres and the requirement that it forms a 26-metre B-double when any of the trailers are removed.

In releasing the paper, NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos said a national approach will give industry confidence to invest in B-triples.

The paper says modular B-triples are safer than A-double combinations because they have more brakes and their trailers are connected in a way that increases stability.

"It follows that, from a safety perspective, modular B-triples should be able to access at least the entire national Type 1 road train network and should be encouraged to gain access to a much broader network as routes are appropriately upgraded," the NTC paper says.

It is also resisting any attempt to link IAP to a national scheme. The NTC says the installation cost of $1,500 to $1,700, combined with ongoing costs of $1,846 per year for each prime mover, will impose "exorbitant costs" on operators with multiple vehicles or restrict the number of trucks that can be used.

IAP is used in Queensland and NSW to monitor trucks using higher mass limits to ensure they do not stray onto restricted routes. But the NTC says "there is no evidence" to suggest B-triples pose a risk of non-compliance that exceeds a B-double or road train operation.

"With no evidence to suggest that the risk of route non-compliance of the IAP-applied vehicles is greater than that of the remainder of the fleet, it is inappropriate to impose the type of monitoring currently active in only two jurisdictions on a national policy," the NTC says.

"It is recommended that IAP participation is not made a requirement under this proposed national policy."

The NTC says granting type 1 access to B-triples can be done without major infrastructure upgrades or additional costs to operators. It says the proposal is based on the use of standard B-double equipment and can be implemented using existing legislative arrangements.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) tasked the NTC back in 2006 with developing a national framework for B-triple access.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly reported a B-triple operating on a B-double route could offer a 61 percent payload mass increase over a B-double combination. The NTC report states that B-doubles formed from B-triples can offer a 61 percent payload increase over semi-trailers formed from A-doubles.

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