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Long combination vehicle corridor remains incomplete

RIVIERE DU LOUP, Que. -- Every year or so since 2002 another few kilometres of Route 185 between Riviere du Loup and the New Brunswick border are twinned and opened to traffic. But when the 94-kilometre project will be finished, completing...


RIVIERE DU LOUP, Que. — Every year or so since 2002 another few kilometres of Route 185 between Riviere du Loup and the New Brunswick border are twinned and opened to traffic. But when the 94-kilometre project will be finished, completing an unbroken divided highway between Halifax, N.S. and Windsor, Ont., is still anyone’s guess.

Twenty-one kilometres are twinned and another 33 kilometres will be twinned by 2015. The remaining 40 kilometres, the $562-million Phase 3, is still in the “where’s the funding?” stage, making the commonly believed completion date of 2018 approximately meaningless.

“As we speak, the Quebec government is speaking with the Canadian government regarding the funding of this project. Because of this it is too early to give an end date of Phase 3, because we don’t know the beginning date,” Transports Quebec says.

Just how many long combination vehicle (LCV) operators, restricted to divided highways, are drooling over the prospect of roaring unimpeded over the 185 is unclear. The Societe de l’assurance automobile du Quebec granted 715 LCV permits in 2013.

“They are all dreaming about the completion of that road,” says Marc Cadieux, director general, Quebec Trucking Association (QTA).

Groupe Guilbault, probably Quebec’s second-largest carrier, is keen. “We are doing the biggest mileage in LCV between Riviere du Loup and Montreal. We have the biggest number of permits for Ontario, too. As soon as the 185 is twinned, it is for sure that we will (run) LCVs four or five times a day,” says Eric Gignac, president, Guilbault.

Some carriers are breaking up their LCVs at one end of the 185, moving the trailers to the other end and re-assembling them. Just how many are doing this is not clear. The QTA does not know.

“We have a lot of discussion internally whether we should or should not do LCV to the Maritimes. Because of the LTL freight we carry, we don’t have a lot of time,” Gignac says. But the lure of 30 to 35% in savings may prove irresistible, even before the twinning is complete. “I will probably try it with one or two of our trucks. I (have been wanting) to try it for two or three years. Day & Ross and Armour are doing it a lot,” Gignac notes.

At least 10 carriers from the Atlantic provinces are hop-scotching LCVs over the 185, according to Jean-Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA). One of them, Salisbury, New Brunswick-based Terra Nova Transport, began doing it four years ago. It currently makes 15-20 trips in each direction a week.

“For us it is well worth it. We feel under the circumstances we have it mastered,” says Cody Jorgensen, co-owner, Terra Nova.

Terra Nova pulls off its “now-you-see-the-LCV-now you-don’t” routine using three different scenarios. Each involves two permitted LCV stops: one off New Brunswick’s

Exit 8 just south of the 185, the other in St-Antonin, five kilometres south of Riviere du Loup.

Scenario 1: This is the most basic one. Take a westbound trip, for example. The driver takes Exit 8, parks the converter dolly and hooks back up with first trailer, a 20- to 30-minute job. He drives 105 kilometres to St-Antonin and drops the trailer.

He bobtails back to Exit 8 and runs the second trailer up to St-Antonin. He hooks the two trailers together with a converter dolly positioned there.

Rebuilding the LCV takes 20-30 minutes. Off he goes for Ontario. Total cost in time is 3.5 hours. “We have to have twice the number of converter dollies that we’d normally need,” Jorgensen notes.

When Phase 2 of the twinning is completed in 2015, westbound LCVs will be able to push over 45 kilometres further north on the 185 before hitting two-lane road, slashing that 3.5-hour time. Asked whether he would move his staging area north too, Jorgensen says, “Oh yes. We’d be hunting for land instantly.”

Scenario 2: Terra Nova uses this one the most often. (Try using two pennies to represent an eastbound LCV and two nickels for the westbound LCV). An LCV leaves Ontario. When it is five hours away from St-Antonin, Terra Nova dispatches an LCV from Salisbury. At Exit 8 it disassembles and hauls one trailer to St-Antonin.

The eastbound LCV, meanwhile, has disassembled in St-Antonin and is hauling one trailer to Exit 8. Each arrives at the other’s drop yard, unhooks, grabs the remaining trailer and returns to Exit 8 and St-Antonin. Now the two eastbound trailers are at Exit 8 and the two westbound trailers are in St-Antonin. The driver at Exit 8 builds an LCV and heads east. The driver at St-Antonin builds an LCV and motors west.

“This is the perfect scenario, what we strive for. The end result is no empty mileage,” Jorgensen says.

Scenario 3: This one involves getting help from a local carrier in St-Jacques to move the trailers between Exit 8 and St-Antonin, but the details will have to wait for the book. The exercise is worth it. An LCV means one less driver and tractor, less insurance and less fuel. On the cost side, fuel mileage drops three-quarters of a mile per gallon hauling an LCV, Terra Nova pays its specialist drivers 51.5% more, pays rent at the staging areas and has extra converter dollies.

Will Jorgensen be overjoyed to see the twinning completed? “My biggest fear is that when the 185 is twinned, it will be wide open…with more carrier involvement it could affect the rates. It could be a double-edged sword. It is the unknown. I would hate to be hauling LCVs at cheap rates.”

Gignac comments, “I don’t mind if there is an increase in competition. It will reduce my costs.” However, he adds, “Shippers in Quebec are asking for LCV rates. I don’t want to give customers LCV rates. I say, ‘Mr. Customer, give me two loads with matching weights, the same destination, at the same time’.”


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