Interest in Ontario’s Long Combination Vehicle (LCV) pilot project ran high at this year’s Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminars (CFMS).
And according to Ron Madill, weights and dimensions coordinator for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, there are already more fleets expressing an interest in running LCVs than the pilot will allow. He told CFMS delegates that the province is hoping to issue the first of 100 permits to carriers beginning in July. The permits will be non-transferrable between carriers, but they won’t be vehicle-specific. A carrier will be required to keep the original permits in the LCV’s tractor whenever it’s on the road, Madill said. The permit will be accompanied by three supporting documents: a list of LCV-approved routes (mostly 400-series highways); a list of safe-havens where LCVs can be safely parked; and approved origin and drop-off locations, which will be specific to the carrier.
No detours will be allowed, even in the event of a road closure. If the 401 is shut down due to an accident and vehicles are being rerouted onto secondary roads, LCVs will be required to remain parked on the highway until it reopens, Madill explained.
While Ontario won’t allow LCVs to operate during the three winter months, there’s still the risk of encountering poor weather and dangerous road conditions. Madill said carriers must be careful not to dispatch LCVs if there’s bad weather in the forecast.
If a truck does come across unexpected bad weather such as high, gusting winds, the driver should “cautiously proceed to the next emergency area and hold there until conditions improve,” said Madill.
Drivers will undergo rigorous training before they’re turned loose with two 53-footers in tow, according to Madill. The training course is still being developed by the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), and will include: pre-qualification testing on subjects such as pre-trip inspections and Hours-of- Service; a full-day in-class training session; yard training on assembly and disassembly; and at least 1,000 kilometres of on-road training with a qualified instructor.
To qualify, drivers will need five years’ experience operating tractor-trailers and they’ll have to maintain a “relatively clean” driver’s abstract and undergo annual recertification. They’ll also have to be recertified if they switch carriers, according to Madill.
Two types of LCVs are approved for use in Ontario: A-Trains and B-Trains. A-Trains use a tandem axle converter dolly to connect the two trailers while B-Trains use a tridem lead trailer with a fifth wheel extension. The B-Trains require slightly more room to manoeuvre, since they only have one articulation point whereas A-Trains have two. In all cases, the heavier trailer must be the lead trailer.
As for the tractor, it will require: an engine with at least 425 horses; front wheels capable of a 40-degree wheel cut; an air compressor with 16.5 cubic ft./minute capacity; and an air dryer capable of keeping the entire air system free of moisture. The trucks will be limited to 90 km/h -and non-compliance with that or any other condition could be costly. Fines for breaking even the most minor permit requirements will range from $200 to $20,000, said Madill.
“We will be looking to suspend or re- voke permits if you’re taking short-cuts,” Madill warned.
Participating carriers will be required to provide documentation of compliance with all the permit conditions upon MTO’s request.
It may seem like an onerous compliance burden, but the benefits are worth the effort according to Ian McCubbing, Edmonton terminal manager with Bison Transport, which has been running LCVs for nearly six years out west and racks up 1.3 million miles per month with its turnpike doubles.
McCubbing estimated Bison reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by using LCVs when compared to two traditional five-axle configurations. Bison averages 5.4 mpg on its turnpike double fleet compared to 6.8 mpg over the rest of its long-haul fleet. Citing a study by Woodrooffe and Associates, McCubbing said removing LCVs from dedicated LCV routes in Alberta would result in an 80% increase in five-axle truck traffic. Overall, using LCVs provides about a 40% cost savings for Bison, McCubbing explained.
However, he admitted there are challenges in running LCVs.
“The same operating conditions that make turnpikes safe can also cause some of the biggest challenges,” he noted.
For one, there’s a lack of harmonization among neighbouring provinces. Making a long weekend delivery on the Prairies is no easy feat, for instance, since Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all have different long weekend restrictions.
On the maintenance side, Bison has had many electrical problems on its LCV equipment.
“We have a system with as many as three light cords and the corresponding connections,” explained McCubbing. The wiring on the rear trailer and convertor dolly is constantly exposed to road grime and spray, leading to electrical problems. (In Ontario, this shouldn’t be as worrisome since LCVs aren’t permitted to operate in the winter).
Most trailer damage occurs in yards, where space is limited, according to McCubbing.
“Drivers without experience are usually trying to turn too tight or they have not taken the time to ensure all air lines and electrical connections have been properly secured,” he said. Bison has also struggled with tire life on its converter dollies, since regulations require the converter to have operational brakes even when there isn’t a second trailer attached. This causes the converter wheels to lock up, shortening tire life by as much as 20%.
“We haven’t been able to find an anti-lock braking system that is 100% effective when you are pulling an empty converter behind a fully-loaded A-box,” said McCubbing. “There always tends to be a slight amount of lock-up and the tire wear that goes along with any lock-up situation.”
The air system also takes a beating in LCV applications, thanks to the exposure of hoses and valves to road grime and spray. McCubbing said Bison equips drivers with a spray lube, which has proven to extend air valve life.
Proper driver training is essential to extending LCV equipment life, McCubbing explained. Drivers should be given ample time to complete pre-trip inspections and must look for potential problems such as bent pintle eyes at connection points. During hook-up, inattentive drivers can easily break pintle eyes, pinch air lines and bend dolly legs, warned McCubbing. Something as simple as forgetting to release the dolly brakes before backing up a few inches can cause considerable damage to the dolly assembly.
Despite the burdensome restrictions and inevitability of equipment damage, McCubbing said, “LCVs are the single most cost-efficient mode of road transportation. Every carrier should be interested in making this pilot a success as it will add benefit and profit to a well-run operation -well-run being the key.”
In closing, he urged participating carriers to focus on preventive maintenance and to be diligent in training drivers and mechanics. “Pre-trips, post-trips and routine inspections will avoid disaster,” he said. “Spec’ for the jurisdiction you will operate in and pay attention to the small things.”