TURNPIKE DOUBLE: An LCV crosses the scales in Alberta.
CALGARY, Alta. –In Australia, they say, there are highway trains a half-mile long.
Crikey! Those Aussies must have a lot of room “out back!”
There’s plenty of room in Canada as well, but since the country also features substantial areas made up of challenging twists and turns and tight urban environments with traffic congestion and 90-degree intersections, many of our highways aren’t suitable for a half-mile long highway train.
Instead, the answer in many parts of the country to the challenge of how to get the most freight rolling efficiently using the least assets is Long Combination Vehicles (LCVs). These combination units currently toil across the prairies, in Quebec, the Atlantic Provinces and parts of British Columbia. And beginning this summer, Ontario.
LCVs consist generally of a tractor and two or three semi-trailers, or trailers that exceed the basic length limitation of 25 metres as specified by provincial truck size regulatory schemes. LCVs have been used for decades in Alberta, with three types operating currently: Rocky Mountain doubles, turnpike doubles, and triple trailer combinations (triples).
They’re long alright, and they’re safe. According to an April, 2007 study conducted for the Alberta government, LCVs are the safest vehicles on the road from the perspective of collision rates.
“LCVs, as a group, had the lowest collision rate of all vehicle types operating on the LCV network,” the study said, accounting for 106 collisions on Alberta’s LCV network and urban area roads over the study period. That was equal to 0.02% of the nearly half million collisions, including passenger cars, in total.
LCVs operate under special permit and with restrictions. In Alberta, turnpike doubles and triples are limited to four-lane highways, while Rocky Mountain doubles of up to 31 metres are also allowed on “select two-lane roads.”Alvin Moroz, director of transport engineering for Alberta Transportation, describes two-lane road capability as “Based on the ability of the highway to accommodate the extra length and with sufficiently wide shoulders so drivers have confidence to pass.”
The tractors pulling an LCV unit also need to be powered appropriately. According to Mayne Root, executive director of the Alberta Motor Transport Association, “You can’t just buy a truck and say ‘I’m going to throw it on my LCV.’ It has to have the horsepower that will pull a unit of that size up hills, down hills and in urban areas. The bottom line is they have to have the oomph.”
LCVs, which Root says were called EEMVs (Energy Efficient Motor Vehicles) originally, are a boon to trucking companies because one tractor can pull as much as two or, in some cases, three trailers. “It saves a huge amount of money,” Root notes.
Doug Thiessen of Luke’s Cartage in Red Deer, agrees. Luke’s, now part of the TransX group, has used LCVs for some 15 years. “We saw it as a legitimate business opportunity,” Thiessen says. “You save trips, using one truck to move two loads or, in the case of Manitoba, we’d run triples: pick up in Winnipeg, drop one in Brandon and continue on to Virden.”
Exalta Transport has been using LCVs for 20 years. “You can move almost twice as much freight with one driver,” Exalta president John Finn says, “which, given the labour prices in the province, has been very important.”
Only needing one tractor reflects on their other costs, too – including up to 25% savings in fuel costs, “which we can pass on to our customers.”
It’s good for drivers, too;Finn says LCV operators generally make 25-30%”or more”above standard drivers. LCV drivers require ongoing certification, though. Root says carriers must recertify their drivers yearly, “which is sometimes pretty informal as long as the driver doesn’t have a bunch of points or other issues.”
Every four years, the driver must take a professional driver improvement course – defensive driving for truckers – a mostly classroom-based refresher on changes to regulations, new concerns, etc. They must also drive a certain amount every year.
Companies contemplating operating LCVs in Alberta have to apply for a permit, undergo a history check (looking at issues such as whether it’s compliant, is being monitored for collisions or inspections, etc.)
“If so,” Root says, “they’re told to get their act together and probably won’t get a permit until they do.”
LCV operators encountering problems can be put on probation. If it’s a major issue, “you may get told you have a year to get your act together, and the next time you may not get a permit,” says Root, adding “once certification is lost, you have to start from the beginning.”
Thiessen points out that the units themselves require more attention.
“When you have multiple pieces of equipment in one situation, your chances of something going wrong mechanically are increased somewhat.”
It isn’t a huge issue, though, because the equipment is “top of the food chain.”
Likewise, LCV drivers are the elite. “Not every driver can do it,” Thiessen says. “They need to be well-trained, safety-conscious – and willing to get their hands dirty hooking and unhooking with a converter.”
Long Combination Vehicles are easier on the roads, because more cargo is moved per unit of pavement consumption. “It seems like a contradiction,” says Moroz, “but it’s the (number of) axles that cause damage, not gross weight.”
Root says the main issue going forward is harmonization. “We don’t have the same regulations between provinces,” he says, pointing to nuances such as how a configuration can be hooked up, weights they can haul and types of roads they can use. “LCVs will eventually be able to travel right to the west coast and even into Ontario,” he says, “so let’s have the same rules.”
Cities can also restrict LCVs. Calgary, for example, allows anything that’s highway legal, relying on the companies to have common sense. Edmonton, however, allows input from individual companies on what routes they’d like to use and then sets rules for each company. Root prefers Calgary’s method “Because in the long run if you get caught at a corner and can’t get out of it, you’re the one who’s losing.”
Alberta’s industry is lobbying to bump LCV lengths up to 40 metres so full, 244-inch wheelbase tractors can be used. This will allow for sleeper bunks, making trips even more cost-effective.
Thiessen looks forward to that. “Right now, we switch (drivers) between Manitoba and Alberta,” he says. “The trucks don’t have bunks, so we drive from Alberta to Saskatchewan and meet a truck that drove in from Manitoba.”
How has the response from the provinces been? “They understand,” Root says. “But each claims its own situation is a little different, so we have work to do.”
Thiessen has some advice for companies thinking of adopting LCVs: “Get the right people to drive,” he says. “And plan your equipment to make the best use of your resources.”
It appears that LCVs offer the proverbial “win-win” scenario for trucking companies and drivers, the governments who regulate and maintain highways, and the consumers who want stuff now – and as cheaply as possible.