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Panel discusses benefits and challenges of 9-axle configurations


PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – Many in the log hauling industry in B.C. would like to see the province fall in line with other jurisdictions and permit the use of 9-axle configurations.

A B.C. Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) panel discussed the benefits and challenges of going from eight to nine axles, which are currently only granted on a case-by-case scenario in the province.

George Funk, owner of Blue Valley Enterprises, said his company went through testing of the 9-axle configuration and the only difference he noted was that it felt like there was a slight loss of power due to the higher payload.

“I’m a person who likes change as long as it’s a positive change,” Funk said, adding that with ongoing technology advancements, the loss of power could be put in the rearview mirror in the near future.

Funk said the stability of the 9-axle was good, and tracking was a bit less, with drivers relaying some additional movement, or floating, on icy roads.

But experience is invaluable.

“It’s all the same, just a little bit more weight,” he said. “When you know the road, it makes all the difference.”
Val Hunsaker, a manager with Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement (CVSE), said there are several factors taken into account when they receive an application for the use of a 9-axle configuration, which currently in B.C. is not legal without two special permits – over-dimensional and over-weight.

With the weight of the 9-axle at 63,500kg, CVSE looks at safety, the specific route the applicant plans to take, and whether the larger configuration meets the standard of 5% less damage to roadways compared to the 8-axle.

Hunsaker said they are also looking at what he called ‘shoving,’ where the traction of the tires against the pavement cause damage when hauling heavy payloads, especially at higher grades, which is most often seen during hard braking.

Along with CVSE, the University of Michigan reviews all aspects of an application before a letter of authorization is granted.

“We’re not for or against anything, we’re neutral on this,” said Hunsaker, adding that given the current provincial election, the B.C. government was in limbo, and what the future holds as far as regulation of 9-axle configurations is unknown.

Seamus Parker, principal researcher for transport and energy for FP Innovations, said one of the major hurdles getting the 9-axle configuration approved was bridge capacities throughout the province.

Tom Hoffman, manager of external and stakeholder relations for Tolko Industries, agreed, adding that there are currently 29 routes that have been submitted for approval for the 9-axle in B.C., eight of which have been approved and five pending approval.

Hoffman emphasized that the use of the 9-axle configuration was necessary for B.C. and Canada as whole to remain competitive in the global market.

“The Russians are eating our lunch right now in China because they are out-competing us,” said Hoffman, who just returned from China. “Our fiber is further from the mills, so we have to look at getting more wood on the truck. It’s been excruciatingly slow.”

Hoffman said 9-axles, which are nine feet longer than the 8-axle configuration, provide the opportunity to increase payloads by 12%-14%, all while using less fuel per unit, lessen damage to roads, and minimize the number of trucks on the road, all a win-win for the industry and public when it comes to safety.

“We need to do something to increase the bar of our competitiveness and our safety,” he said.

Funk said his investment into the 9-axle configuration has been decent, and the extra revenue he garners more than pays for the added cost.

“Bottom line is everybody needs trucks and trucks will always be there,” Funk said, advising those who are leery about investing in the new configuration that the industry did not step back to the five or 7-axle configuration when it went to eight, so there was no reason for it not to step up to nine.

BCFSC initiatives

Following the panel discussion, Dustin Meierhofer, BCFSC director of transportation and northern safety, highlighted three of the top initiatives the council was working toward – antilock braking systems (ABS), load securement, and log truck driver training.

Properly securing a load is vital for log truck haulers, not just for public safety, but also for the driver.

Meierhofer said one of the areas they are looking at is the size of wrappers used to secure loads, which can also cause injuries to drivers when securing due to the size and number of wrappers required.

An FP Innovations’ report from 2013 indicated that log trucks that carry multiple bundles of cut-to-length loads require more load wrappers to secure the load, and that a National Safety Code Standard 10 requirement from 2004 states that the “aggregate working limit of tie-downs used to secure each stack shall be at least one-sixth of the weight of the stack,” meaning drivers must use fewer, heavier wrappers, or additional lighter wrappers.

Meierhofer said there must be a move from using 5/16 wrappers to 3/8, which are 60% heavier than the current size, but could cause additional shoulder injuries to drivers when securing.

He added that the use of loader assist is an option in some cases, but not all, particularly during adverse weather conditions in remote locations with uncommon terrain.

Meierhofer said there must be better harmonization of provincial regulations, and that there was inconsistency in enforcement and supply of securement devices.

ABS brakes are another issue for log truck drivers, as they are not always beneficial depending on terrain.
“Some work very well, and some don’t depending on the circumstances,” Meierhofer said.

Commercial vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000lbs must be equipped with ABS brakes if manufactured after April 1, 2000, including log trucks, which face challenges in off-road conditions.

Some of those challenges include continued failure of the braking system, the amber light illuminating for no reason, speed sensors malfunctioning, loss of brakes on steep hills, and the cost to repair damages.

CVSE did grant exemptions to log trucks that operate primarily on forest and industrial roads.

Properly training drivers rounds out the list of Top 3 initiatives the BCFSC is working on, but is as important as any on the list.

However, Meierhofer said funding of a training program is unpredictable, that the industry has relied heavily on contractors to provide training and that the model needs improvement.

“That is not a sustainable model,” he said. “It puts a lot of strain on the contractors to find the solutions and it doesn’t work well.”

With several fatalities coming from those who enter the log hauling sector from other areas, Meierhofer said more must be done to properly train drivers.

“Hauling logs is a profession like anything else,” he said, “and it requires a special skillset.”

Coroner’s report

Chico Newell, resource industry coroner for the B.C. Coroner’s Service, said so far in 2017 there have been nine forestry-related deaths, five of which involved hauling.

Between 2006 and 2016 there were 15 deaths as a result of a motor vehicle collision in the forestry sector, and 10 that were non-motor vehicle collisions.

Newell said 73% of those who died as a result of a collision were not wearing a seatbelt, but added that he could not definitively answer the questions, ‘If the driver was wearing a seatbelt, would they have survived the incident?’

Newell does believe that wearing a seatbelt saves lives, but each circumstance is different, and he can only base his opinion on the fact that he sees only fatalities, not collisions where the driver survives.

And sometimes, the road is at fault, as Newell pointed out with a fatal collision on Hwy 5A near Merritt, B.C., where he said the road just does not feel right and has no edge lines – concerns he has brought to the attention of government engineers.

Adverse weather, road conditions and load shifting were the top causes of fatal collisions in the log truck hauling industry, all of which Newell feels could be improved with the use of technology, such as radar, icy road alarms and wrapper stress change sensors.


Derek Clouthier

Derek Clouthier

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media industry as an editor, reporter and now as editor of Truck West. I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels. derek@newcom.ca @DerekClouthier
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