Canadian inventor says his D-train configuration can save lives
March 1, 2007
BURLINGTON, Ont. - With analysts predicting that the number of trucks needed to meet demand may double by 2020, current industry issues like the driver shortage and traffic congestion may only intensi...
BURLINGTON, Ont. – With analysts predicting that the number of trucks needed to meet demand may double by 2020, current industry issues like the driver shortage and traffic congestion may only intensify in the years to come. Numerous groups in both Canada and the US have been mulling over possible solutions and at least one group believes it may have an answer.
The Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based organization founded in 1968, produces public policy research on a variety of issues. Its solution to the congestion problem? The pairing of Long Combination Vehicles or LCVs with toll truck lanes.
LCVs are truck and trailer combinations that consist of a tractor with two or three trailers or semi-trailers where the combined length of the configuration exceeds the regular limit of 25 metres. There are typically three different types of LCV length classifications: the Rocky Mountain Double; the Turnpike Double; and the Triple Trailer. The vehicles have been operating on Alberta highways since 1969 with the introduction of Triple Trailers and can now be found in various regions across Canada. In the US, LCVs are restricted to a handful of western states and eastern turnpikes.
The Reason Foundation’s research predicts that 16% of Interstate routes in the US will be severely congested by 2020, yet very little lane-addition projects are in the works.
“We need to think outside the box, drawing on recent research that supports toll truck lanes as a bold new approach,” says Robert W. Poole, Jr., director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation.
Poole says the use of LCVs, in conjunction with divided highways (separate highways for trucks), would result in time savings for truckers and improved reliability.
“Longer combination vehicles, especially turnpike doubles and short triples, can produce 50 to 100% greater payload with only a modest increase in operating cost,” he says. “Trucking industry support depends not only on allowing the use of LCVs on toll highways, it also hinges on not forcing existing street-legal 18-wheelers to use the pay lanes. Instead they should be lured into these lanes by time savings, increased safety and lower stress.”
Studies have been conducted to review the economic efficiency of LCVs, like a 2001 report commissioned by Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation. The results of the study, conducted by Woodrooffe and Associates, indicated that the use of LCVs in the truck sector enhanced direct economic costs by 29% and fuel efficiency by 32%. It was also demonstrated that LCVs minimize greenhouse gas emissions and result in a 40% reduction in pavement wear on highway infrastructure.
The largest trucking association in the US, the American Trucking Associations, supports the use of LCVs with dedicated lanes for trucks, but the Virginia Trucking Association is fighting against LCV use through the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT). The coalition has a number of arguments against longer combination vehicles, saying they damage roads because of excess weight, slide out of their lanes, don’t stop quickly enough and take up too much room when making a turn.
Somewhat surprisingly, there are some proponents of LCVs and divided highways that actually agree with CABT’s stance. Royce Curry, president of National Zephyr Research, says that since cars have gotten a lot smaller and sportier, the difference in size between cars and trucks has widened considerably.
“We’ve got to do something about gridlock, about the incompatibility between the automobile and heavy-duty trucks, and somehow we’ve got to allay the fears of the general public, so trucks can continue to do their jobs as efficiently as possible,” he says.
To combat this problem, Curry says the industry doesn’t need a new truck or a new trailer, but simply a different configuration. Curry has worked in research and development for years and has several patents associated with advanced technology designs. His patents include forced steering axles, self steering axles, slip steering axles, steering bogies, booster axles, forced steering dollies, twin drawbar dollies, long load steering pipeline trailers, C-trains, Anti-Jackknife fifth wheels and depth of field brake light systems. Some of these products have been written into the Highway Traffic Act.
Curry has been working on developing a technology that will address the driver shortage, high fuel costs, lack of capacity, poor manoeuvrability and tire damage associated with multi-axle trucks and trailers, jackknifing and rollover, uncontrolled self-steering axles and directional stability, and lateral acceleration and the effects of multiple articulation points associated with LCVs. His invention: the D-train LCV. The D-train is essentially a Rocky Mountain Double though far more advanced, Curry says. The system is suitable for most LCV applications including straight trucks and dump trucks.
The compound hitch system uses a standard sliding fifth wheel and an after frame guide restricting yaw associated with tractor-trailers. The lead ‘B’ trailer configuration is positioned tight to the cab (6″ clearance) and is restricted in lateral yaw movement by an after frame guide designed into the chassis or bogie of the trailer. The hitch system eliminates the gap between the tractor and lead trailer, which in addition to 100% prevention of jackknifing, is also designed to decrease drag and thus improve fuel efficiency. Also, because the lead trailer is so close to the cab, it is not permitted to articulate, keeping a seemingly cumbersome unit in place.
When used in conjunction with highways for heavy commercial vehicles, Curry says the D-train has the potential to improve productivity by 20%, reduce fuel consumption by 5% as well as reduce the number of trucks needed by 44.6%. By reducing the amount of trucks on the road by nearly half, a decrease in road damage would also be expected, Curry says.
The D-Train can be introduced with very little disturbance to the industry, Curry says, as existing fleet equipment can be retrofitted into a D-Train configuration. Curry estimates that the three basic components of the D-train (a sliding fifth wheel, a sliding landing gear and the after frame attachment) have a capital cost at the OEM level of about $3,000. With all applicable costs included, the cost might go as high as $10,000, but “to enjoy a 20% increase in profitability, that’s peanuts,” Curry says.
But in order to gain acceptance for a configuration like the D-train, Curry says a peer group leader is needed to endorse the technology. By putting a prototype in an existing fleet, operating it for an extended period, gathering statistical information and disseminating it through industry, the legitimacy of the product is much easier to determine.
“There are no DoT restrictions in operation of this particular configuration as we speak. The only (barrier) is a conformity to tradition,” Curry says.
Besides operating more efficiently, the potential lifesaving qualities of the D-train may also attract interest.
With some 4,800 tractor-trailer drivers killed annually on North American roads, a configuration that won’t jackknife and may prevent rollovers is a major step forward, Curry says.
“This is the first time in history that you can say categorically, ‘This truck will not jackknife.’ A D-Train probably couldn’t save 100% of drivers killed, but if it could save 10%, that’s still 480 drivers whose lives would be saved,” he says.