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Tail blazers

MONTREAL, Que. – Taking yet another step to reduce fuel consumption, Montreal-based Groupe Trans-West has installed trailer tails on the 120 trailers it uses for US-bound trips. The carrier values the monthly fuel savings at $54,000.


MONTREAL, Que. – Taking yet another step to reduce fuel consumption, Montreal-based Groupe Trans-West has installed trailer tails on the 120 trailers it uses for US-bound trips. The carrier values the monthly fuel savings at $54,000.

“You cannot really calculate the savings in percentages, because different tractors have different fuel consumption. In our tests, the best calculation was that for every 1,000 miles running you will save six to eight US gallons of fuel,” says Pierre Savard, director of training, Trans-West.

The carrier logs 90% of its miles in the US, where trailer tails are permitted. If Canadian regulations change to permit their use north of the border, fuel savings for Trans-West could increase another 10%.

Trans-West began trials in May 2011 with 10 units it purchased from Hayward, Calif.-based ATDynamics, under the product name TrailerTail. It added 50 more units in 2012 and then went into installation overdrive to equip all of its US-bound trailers with TrailerTails.

The units cost $2,000 each. Trans-West trucked the TrailerTails home, then shuttled its trailers a few metres down the street to American Road Service, which installed them at a cost of $400 apiece. Assembly and installation takes about five hours, a straightforward process, according to Savard.

The only special consideration is locating the correct installation points for different trailer types. This depends on the location of the hinges on the trailer doors and the lock rods. Trans-West owns trailers manufactured by Great Dane, Wabash and Utility, for which ATDynamics supplied detailed installation instructions.

Opening and closing a TrailerTail is very easy. A little tug on two short cords unlatches the two sides of the TrailerTail. Gravity pulls the panels down and out into the open position. This takes perhaps eight seconds. Closing a TrailerTail takes perhaps 10 to 12 seconds.  It requires just a light upward push with both hands to buckle the two lower panels on their hinges, then watch the TrailerTail close and check that the folded unit is latched.

Trans-West tested the regulatory waters in Canada by running with the TrailerTails open, but stopped after enforcement officers challenged the practice. “We are asking our drivers now to close the tails in Canada,” Savard says.

The first hurdle to overcome in allowing their use in Canada was safety concerns in the case of rear impacts.

“ATDynamics made some changes to the angle of the tail and submitted it to Transport Canada, saying it would not be as dangerous. Now Transport Canada says there is no problem with rear impact,” Savard says.

The second hurdle concerns the definition of the rear extremity of a transport truck. “When the tail was accepted in the US, rear impact was the only concern. Length was not an issue because it was an aerodynamic device added on. It was not considered a part of the bumper-to-bumper truck configuration,” Savard explains.

This is not yet the case in Canada. Here, a boat tail (or trailer tail) is considered to be part of the truck, so therefore a 4-ft. boat tail is not permitted. On Oct. 6 2012, however, Transport Canada published a proposed amendment in the Canada Gazette to the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations that would change the definition of the “rear extremity” of trailers in Canada found in the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 223.

Once this amendment comes into force, boat tails meeting certain dimensional requirements will be an acceptable “non-structural protrusion” in the language of the proposed amendment. “Transport Canada accepted the 4-ft. length of the tails. We are waiting for the regulation to be published in the Canada Gazette Part II,” Savard explains.

Unfortunately, however, the next hurdle more resembles the whole steeplechase. Savard thinks that all of the provinces will need to agree, one by one, to change their provincial laws to declassify tails as a part of the truck proper.

Until that day, drivers will have to pull over once they cross into the US to unfurl their trailer tails, but this is not ideal, Savard explains.

“It is easiest for us if the driver opens the tail in the yard for the whole trip instead of asking the driver to stop after crossing the border. Asking drivers to go outside at -30 C at night is tough. Some will wait to reach a truck stop before opening them, or even not open them at all. We are looking at ways to monitor whether the tails are open. We are experimenting with using a spare reefer connection to tell us if the tail is open.”


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