Driver Larry Boyle is pictured the the extra long, long combination vehicle he pulls for Loblaws in Saskatchewan.
REGINA, Sask. — A pilot project in Saskatchewan could redefine the term “long haul” as it applies in the province.
The experiment, currently under way on a single run between Regina and Saskatoon, allows for a third 53-ft. trailer to be added to an LCV, creating a kind of “turnpike triple” that’s hoped to help up the efficiency ante when it comes to moving goods in Saskatchewan.
It’s a part of what’s referred to as a Transportation Partnership between government and industry, an arrangement the province says is designed to enhance truck safety, support economic development through the use of larger, more efficient vehicles with higher payloads, as well as to promote the use of efficient, “road friendly” vehicles while minimizing impact on the road infrastructure.
“We’ve always been looking to get longer and heavier,” says Mike Burnett, director of logistics, central region, Saskatchewan Department of Highways and Infrastructure. “That’s just the nature of what the program is about.” The LCV program has been in operation in Saskatchewan for many years now, Burnett notes, so “this was next up, to look at something longer – as long as we could accomplish it safely.”
This particular pilot project had been in the works for a couple of years before things actually got moving along the highways, and relates directly to the province’s attempts to become more competitive in the global marketplace.
“Saskatchewan’s a landlocked province,” Burnett says, “and our problem is that we’ve always got a lot of bulk commodities but we’re a long way away from port. This puts us at a competitive disadvantage.”
The project dovetails nicely with the province’s 2,000-acre Global Transportation Hub, located at the west end of Regina on the Canadian Pacific main line between Highways 1 and 11.
“As the Global Transportation Hub was starting to be developed,” Burnett says, “the (triple trailer) idea was being thrown around and since there was interest from occupants there, we thought this would be a good opportunity to try it out.”
Currently, the project sees a single company – Loblaws – running a triple “Road Train” (as its driver calls it) from the Hub to the outskirts of Saskatoon, where the third trailer is uncoupled and taken into the city by itself – undoubtedly saving some interesting urban right turns in the process. Burnett says Loblaws was chosen because it “expressed an interest in pursuing it. They’re the anchor company in the GTH, so it made sense for them to take the lead.”
Andrew Cipywnyk, director, trucking policy and regulation, says that as part of the pilot project, “We’re looking at things like the operation of the vehicle and the whole issue of whether it fits in Saskatchewan.” Cipywnyk says the project is designed as a one-year test, after which “it will be evaluated to determine whether it’s a viable alternative for Loblaws operationally, but also to see whether there are any operational issues for the vehicle itself.”
The first runs up Highway 11 began just before Christmas of 2011, but Cipywnyk says there was a lot of planning done before the first road train rolled. “Anytime we enter into something like this there’s a lot of work done,” he says. “You have to look at the safety of the vehicle and the Ministry wouldn’t have even entered into the pilot if there wasn’t some level of comfort with the vehicle being safe for the road. But because it’s such a new configuration, we wanted to make sure there’s nothing that was missed in the analysis.”
Burnett says the project consists of a maximum of one trip a night, the triple heading to Saskatoon loaded but returning to Regina empty. “They have two sets of triples,” he says. “They drop off the loaded ones and pick up the empty ones for the return trip.”
Or perhaps not quite empty. The driver tasked with taking the triple to the ’Toon, Larry Boyle, says he hauls empty pallets or milk trays back to the Hub after dropping off his load. Still, compared with the 177-ft long triple’s gross weight of 90,000 kgs, it probably feels empty.
Boyle, a 36-year veteran of the trucking business, may have been the perfect choice as a guinea pig for the road trains. He’s been involved with Saskatchewan’s LCV program for many years and his experience includes time as an owner/operator with various companies; he also drove for Bison before moving to Loblaws in January of 2011. Boyle says he’s tickled pink to have been chosen for the pilot project and really enjoys the challenge – as well as the triple train experience itself.
“I actually prefer to drive them rather than the turnpikes,” he says, “because they’re on a slide out system, like a fifth wheel – kind of like a long B-train – so it’s more stable because there’s no swing to it like with a converter.”
This leads to the road train being more “wind-friendly” than one might think, though Boyle admits that if the winds get really strong they uncouple the third trailer anyway.
“The winds were 90 km-h the other night,” he says, “and we didn’t run because of that. There are a lot of safety considerations in terms of being on the highway.”
The run is made five days a week, weather permitting, with the train allowed to operate only between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and at a maximum speed of 90 km/h.
It appears that so far, things have been going well. “We haven’t really had any negative feedback,” Burnett says. “Loblaws has certainly been very conscientious making sure they err on the side of caution, and they’ve been a very good partner through this.”
– You can check out the May issue of Truck West for the complete story.
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