MONTREAL, Que. — Where Ontario and New Brunswick simply allow long combination vehicles (LCVs) to operate year-round on an annual permit, although with bad weather restrictions, Quebec still requires carriers to have special winter permits to operate LCVs.
They are issued for what Transports Quebec calls a winter demonstration project, which has been ongoing since 2011.
In its early days, it put the province ahead of Ontario, which at the time still had a ban on LCV operations for every December, January, and February. But that province lifted its ban in 2014, according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation; New Brunswick also allows year-round travel with no special winter permits.
Ontario and New Brunswick, as does Quebec, specify under what weather and road conditions LCVs must stay off, or get off, the road; ie., “Program Condition 6 (g), Inclement Weather/Visibility/Road Conditions still applies, whereby LCVs must not operate if the roadway is: partly snow-covered, fully snow-covered, snow-packed, icy, or there is a road closure or reduced visibility (ie. visibility is 500 meters or less),” notes the Ontario Ministry of Transport. New Brunswick specifically mentions no-go weather events such as freezing rain, sleet, hail, fog, blizzards, and heavy crosswinds.
Quebec’s rules are similar.
Asked why it continues to run its winter demonstration program, Transports Quebec replied that it permits, “the circulation of LCVs in winter in a gradual manner; it validates the proposed program framework; adjusting the project according to acquired experience and; reassures the citizenry.”
In addition to requiring permits, the demonstration program, which applies to November, December, January, and February, has various reporting requirements.
Cascades, which took a pass on the 2011-2012 winter demonstration program, then joined up for 2012-2013, began by having to make a report each month.
However, explains Alain Boutin, director of conformity and risk management, “If you have more than two years running in the winter, you don’t have to make reports.
“The first time, they wanted a report to be sure of the origin and destination. When we sent this report we also had to send proof of the forecasts we checked,” Boutin says, noting that Cascades continues to print and archive weather forecasts for LCV trip days.
“Transports Quebec wants to know you are serious. They could call back and ask for proof. We still keep proof on file in case they ask. It’s the same thing in Ontario. You have to have proof that you checked the weather before you sent out the LCV,” Boutin notes.
Transports Quebec also requires that LCV operators submit a list of emergency stops, or safe havens they can drive to in case they get caught in restricted weather conditions.
“We find emergency exits with a car. The first year we did it and found places. For example, restaurants and companies where we made agreements to use their yards, and they could use ours. Every year we do this, and we have to send this (list of safe havens) to the government. They check this. If it is good, they give us the LCV permit for the winter. The first year was hard, because you had to find some places. After that, you just checked to see if the places were still open. We do not use the emergency stops very often, because we have a person who checks the roads and weather. This year we haven’t had to use them,” Boutin says.
Despite this additional workload, plenty of fleets sign on to operate under the Quebec model. Transports Quebec reports that in the 2016-2017 winter, 55 Quebec companies, 10 Ontario companies, six from New Brunswick and one from Nova Scotia participated. In 2017-2018 the participating fleet count was 59 from Quebec, eight from Ontario, five from New Brunswick and one from Nova Scotia.
Ontario-based ITS, however, decided that the hoops were too troublesome to hop through. “We looked at participating in a Quebec winter pilot program. The risks outweighed the benefits. We respectfully opted out of it because it was overly restrictive,” says Steve Farris, vice-president of safety and risk, ITS.
For this past winter, Cascades bought four permits for Quebec and six for Ontario.
“In Quebec when you take a permit it is from March to November. If you want to run in the winter you have to take another permit. In the summer we have seven permits,” says Boutin.
Cascades does about 11 LCV runs a week in the winter.
“During January and February this year we got a lot of snow. We made 30 loads last December, 36 in January and 60 in February. Just to give you an idea, in summer we can make something like 30 LCV trips a week,” Boutin says.
Despite the extra precautions Transports Quebec requires, the penalty for driving when not allowed are more severe in Ontario, due to its annual permit system.
“In Quebec, if you do something wrong in the winter period, you lose your winter permit. In Ontario if you do something wrong you lose your permit for one year,” Boutin says.
Cascades likes the cost savings associated with LCV operations, despite the extra work.
Canadian Tire, which operates LCVs in provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Alberta, participates in Quebec’s winter demonstration program.
“The ability to operate year-round gives shippers cost-effective options when moving goods in an LCV format. While rail is still the preferred longhaul mode, LCVs are a viable option when service and capacity on the rail is not available,” says Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire Corporation.
However, Fast notes, “A lack of harmonization between highways across Ontario and eastern provinces has created challenges in our planning and execution. We’d like to see provincial governments completely harmonize and ensure the infrastructure allows for the movement of LCVs from Ontario to Nova Scotia.”
Asked why its winter demonstration program rolls on and on, Transports Quebec offered several justifications; it wants to validate the LCV-in-winter concept by, for example, knowing how often safe havens are used and how often trips are interrupted or cancelled due to weather conditions, and it collects information so to have regulations that will “frame in the best possible way the circulation of these vehicles in the specific climatic conditions in Quebec.”
Also, the winter demonstration program, “enables information to be collected to better assess the level of greenhouse gas reduction, as well as the economic impact attributable to the circulation of large road trains in winter, as well as the level of adoption by business participation, (and) risk management best practices related to this business area,” Transports Quebec explains.
And, Transports Quebec continues, “Keeping in mind the need to maintain the excellent track record of the traffic of large road trains in Quebec, the demonstration project aims to better identify the issues related to the traffic of large road trains in winter, which will allow proposing solutions to ensure the safety of users and the protection of infrastructure.”
So after all these years of information collecting, has Transports Quebec written any reports summarizing its findings? That, Transports Quebec, says, would be “premature (and) only superficially addresses issues related to the movement of large trains in winter.”
Might 2017-2018 have been the last season for the winter demonstration program? Here is Transports Quebec again: “The adoption of a regulation integrating the measures of supervision of this practice would give the opportunity to propose an end date of the demonstration project,” and “the department will determine a timeline for the needs analysis and issues identified.”
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