long trains a’ coming; is the 401 ready for this?

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A lot of back-slapping must have accompanied the announcement that Ontario is finally ready to start its pilot LCV project this summer. Trucking firms like Robert, Goyette and Bison have been chomping at the bit for months waiting for the green light to commence pulling turnpike doubles. The OTA has a great track record at getting what it wants and David Bradley can chalk up another victory here. But before we break out the champagne, perhaps it might be good to take a sober look at what this means.
I’m not a Luddite and I can fully understand the benefits that double 53s will provide from an economical, environmental and a public safety perspective. Double 53s have a great safety record in jurisdictions where they are utilized, largely because of the strict conditions under which they operate and the fact that only the best, most experienced drivers are chosen to pilot these units and they have to undergo training and certification to do so. Right off the bat, trucking companies who are granted the permits (about 100 are up for grabs according to the MTO) will see a 30% fuel savings in fuel and approximately 40% savings in driver wages (one driver can pull two loads but it takes a while longer as pre-trips, for one thing, have to fulfill a rigourous checklist before the doubles can leave the yard).
But I can’t be the only one to notice that the infrastructure to support long trains is not presently available on the 400 series highways. The Ontario government has dropped the ball on providing safe, accessible rest areas along the big roads: half of the service centres are closed or about to be closed for renovation (which may take years) and most of them are a shambles for parking big rigs anyway. You should have your head examined if you want to pull a set of doubles into these places at night.You have to keep the trailers straight and in front of the so-called rest areas, and those spots are among the first to get blocked in by ignorant and selfish truck drivers.
I suppose McGuinty will send out crews to put up signs and create a few lanes for LCV parking (this could be part of the stimulus package we’re still waiting to see). But clearly, as in the rest area debacle, I doubt that much will be done before the LCVs start rolling this summer. Surely the MTO realizes that drivers have to stop at least once between Toronto and Montreal and where, I might ask the two Bradleys (transportation minister Jim and the aforementioned David), will they be able to do so safely and without getting blocked in?
And let’s not forget the small “c” conservative mentality of this province. The motoring public is a powerful lobby and is already freaked out when it comes to big trucks. Groups like rail proponents CRASH and the four-wheeler oriented CAA may have an easy time playing on the fears of motorists who already think trucks are too big and dominant on the highways as is. I think McGuinty realizes this is a hot-button issue that may come back to sting him. Expect a lot of polling on the subject as the trial gets under way.
But realistically, maybe the provincial government should have gone further. Why not extend the trial to triples and add a few permits for them, as well? This would be the time to try it out. Afterall, what do the Australians know that we don’t?
Lastly, we can’t discount the fact that some driving jobs will be lost by the introduction of LCVs. This may be fine for times when there is a driver shortage, but last time I checked there was no surfeit of truck driving jobs, unless you want to drive teams–they’re still in demand. So there might be some backlash from groups like the Teamsters and OBAC who are happy with the status quo and want to protect the jobs they have now.
However, if my company was to post a notice asking for drivers for LCV training, I might just put my name down. I enjoyed the trial I had driving a set of 53s around the Robert yard in Boucherville, Que. last year. I’m one person who enjoys operating heavy equipment and it was thrilling to watch the tail of the last trailer disappear around the previous corner as I was already negotiating another turn 125 feet ahead. Now if only the province could get it together with the rest areas…

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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  • This quick response from Emna Dhahak, Senior Bilingual Media Liaison Officer at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, was waiting for me when I got home this morning.
    1.- Is the 400s series infrastructure equipped to handle LCVs?
    The maximum weight for LCVs will be the same as for other tractor-trailers currently operating on our highways. LCVs actually have slightly less weight per axle and less impact on roads and bridges than the two single tractor-trailers they replace.
    2.- Where will these LCVs stop? —these are different kinds of vehicles.
    LCVs may only stop at approved Rest/Emergency stop locations, Truck Inspection Stations or pre-approved Origin/Destination (O/D) locations. O/D locations must be within approximately 2 km of the freeway network and approved by MTO based on an engineering assessment of the route to ensure LCVs can be safely accommodated. Municipal consent is also required.
    3.- Will there be any special designated areas for rest and inspection?
    There will be a series of Rest/Emergency stops identified along the freeway network. Engineering analysis is currently underway to identify service centres or commercial truck stops that can accommodate LCVs. LCVs are required to report to MTO truck inspection stations on the same basis as other commercial vehicles.
    4.- In light of the service centre closures, are there any designated pullover areas/locations available now for the LCVs to check their loads?
    Where service centres are not available or suitable for LCVs, commercial truck stops are being examined as potential LCV Rest/Emergency stop locations.
    5. Do these pullovers include areas off the 401?
    There will be a series of approved LCV Rest/Emergency stop locations along Hwy 401.
    6.- Any map or route planning available?
    Engineering analysis of potential routes is still underway. At this point, no highways or stop locations have yet been approved for LCV use.

  • I have long felt Ontario should allow LCV’s and I’d love to drive one at least far enough to see what it felt like. I have many years experience with oversize loads and have some concept of the complexities of these types of loads. However I would hesitate to commit to actually driving one full time given the current rest area situation in Ontario. I just shake my head every time I pass one of those “Temporarily Closed” signs and then see and hear what is actually happening in the rest areas. It is obvious that Ontario intends to have no rest areas in the future. It is already difficult to find someplace to park even a regular semi for a quick “whiz” and coffee to go. I know it will look better on the expense ledger when there are no $ costs for these places but I think the general public and trucking in particular will pay very dearly in safety and convenience. I don’t mind my tax money providing necessary services and I think rest areas fall into that category.

  • Probably someone has already said this but compared to what the rest areas are like in the great US of A, down south, our rest areas are pathetic. If you want to see what a proper rest area should look like, check out the one on I-71 in Kentucky once you are south of Cincinatti, (after the split with I-75). Now that’s a rest area, very beautiful, in fact everytime i stayed there i didn’t want to leave. Most of the rest areas in the States are very well maintained, although just before dark you are lucky to find a spot to park. The reason for the vast difference in the quality and quantity of rest areas is that the focus and priorities of the two countries are very different. The U.S. has a population of 306 million, (as of Feb. 2009), and Canada’s is 33 million, so the U.S. has that many more cars, trucks and other vehicles looking for a place to park each day. They have to have a good servicible network of interstates and rest areas, which they do. Even though the 401 through Toronto is the busiest highway by volume in the world, the rest of the highway network doesn’t have nearly as much volume. Anytime i travelled to Montreal or farther east i looked for a spot to park at a couple of malls (Napanee, Brockville, for example), and had no problems parking my rig for the night. But that was a single 53′ trailer, it would be very different for a double. C’mon Ontario, put some more money into the highway network and the infrastructure. Then maybe we would be happier campers, (motorists). Anyway, that’s Rick’s Rant for the day.

  • Well here’s another sign of the Ontario Government not knowing what their doing,or shall I dare say stealing money away from trucker’s( permit’s ) as they’re good at doing.
    If there’s no where to park( Ontario ) these LCV’s when the driver need’s to stop what’s the point in allowing them.This will be just another Bad judgement call on the Ontario Government,for the simple reason as the driving public will complain more and the CAA will fight it tooth and nail.LCV’s will get Bad publicity and will be stopped dead in their track’s.