Cartage Aust. B-double risk to Blue Mountains

Cartage Australia’s demonstration B-double sand tipper Volvo truck
 22 metres long – parked in Katoomba, Blue Mountains.
(Photo by Editor, 20120210, free in public domain, click photo to enlarge)

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Like most news across the Blue Mountains region concerning issues likely to pose a significant impact upon the community and the environment, one learns about it on the grapevine.

So two weeks ago, I learnt about this Melbourne trucking company planning to introduce 22 metre long B-Double trucks along the Great Western Highway.  Such long trucks are currently banned as being too long for this regional highway through the many towns, villages and residential and school zones of the Blue Mountains.

I learn that the trucking company, Cartage Australia, is due to demonstrate one of its B-Doubles to the local community and in the process try to justify why it should be exempt from the current New South Wales Government prohibition.  But the announcement is not a general public one, so naturally only a handful of the community turn up to the demonstration, because only a handful of the community were made aware.

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Why Are Oversized and Overmass Trucks Restricted?

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Heavy vehicles using the Great Western Highway between Victoria Pass and Lapstone Hill are currently restricted to being no more than 19 metres in length.  Such vehicles are deemed to be ‘oversized’ and or ‘overmass’ to mix normally with day-to-day traffic.

According to the RTA’s (recently renamed ‘RMS’)…

“As stated in the General Class 1 Oversize (Load-Carrying Vehicle) Notice 2007 and the General Class 1 Oversize (Special-Purpose Vehicle) Notice 2007, night travel on the Great Western Highway between the Nepean River at Emu Plains and Medlow Bath for vehicles wider than 2.5 metres or longer than 19 metres is only permitted between 1.00am and 5.00am.”

[Source:  ‘RTA Operating Conditions Oversize Overmass’ Version 2, 2008, page 23, New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority, ^http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/heavyvehicles/downloads/operating_conditions-oversize_overmass.pdf , >Read document (pdf)  720kb]

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The following justifications identified by the South Australian Director of Road Safety Legislation are just as pertinent to New South Wales:

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  • The need for suitable protection of the State’s road system from structural damage
  • The safety and convenience of all road users
  • The capability of the vehicle to safely carry the load
  • Environmental impacts
  • Equitable treatment of all sectors of the industry.

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[Source: ‘Policy for the Transport of Oversize and Overmass Indivisible Loads and Vehicles, MR 434 06/06, June 2006, South Australian Government,  Department for Transport Energy and Infrastructure,  ^http://www.transport.sa.gov.au/pdfs/freight/policy_indivisible_vehicles.pdfRead Document (pdf) 930kb]

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In New South Wales, rules governing B-Doubles are prescribed under the RTA B-Doubles General_notice_2005   (The Road Transport (General) Act 2005 – General B-Double Notice under Division 4 of Part 2 of the Road Transport (Mass, Loading and Access) Regulation, 2005. >Read Regulation (pdf)  (690kb)

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The Sand Cartage Contract

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Hy-Tec’s Sand Quarry south of Hartley
(Google Maps)

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Melbourne-based construction material trucker, Cartage Australia,  is bidding for a sand cartage contract to Hy-Tec to deliver construction sand to the Sydney markets using 22 metre B-double trucks.  This will mean many of these long B-double sand trucks dominating the Great Western Highway over the Blue Mountains.  The route is to be from Hy-Tec’s sand quarry  from Jenolan Caves Rd south of the village of Hartley to Sydney.

Hy-Tec is a group of companies which are wholly owned by publicly listed Adelaide Brighton Limited, a prominent Australian construction materials and lime producing company with operations throughout Australia.    Two major construction projects that Hy-Tec is currently delivering to in Sydney include ‘The Ark’ –  a 21 storey commercial high-rise in North Sydney and Presida’s T1 industrial 35,000 cubic metre industrial building complex at the Norwest Business Park in Bella Vista.

Director of Cartage Australia, Wayne Vella, argues that his Volvo fleet of B-doubles are “longer but safer”.    Yet according to its website,

“HY-TEC’s focuses on accurate delivery times, taking direct customer enquiries at each concrete plant and quarry, supported by a large fleet of concrete trucks for quick response and best in class on time delivery.”

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This time-critical delivery focus necessitates that the sand cartage from Hartley to Sydney will be time critical.  This means the pressure will be on drivers to meat delivery deadlines and so they be in a hurry and so this poses risks of more trucks and larger heavier trucks speeding along the Great Western Highway, undermining the safety of the road for other road users.

Cartage Australia provides its services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, hauling quarry products around Melbourne – and more recently, throughout Sydney, following the opening of a new facility late last year.  This means the sand cartage over the Great Western Highway has potential to be 24 hours a day.

“We opened the Sydney operation so that we can offer the same sort of service to customers there as we provide in Melbourne, and so that we can continue to grow the company. Customers can call the company at any time and we’ll strive to get the job done for them,” says Ray.

Although the Sydney arm of the business has only been fully operational for a few months, Ray is already looking at ways to further grow the business. “Wayne and I want to grow Cartage Australia as much as we can,” says Ray, as he points to further growth planned for 2012.

[Source: ‘Cartage Australia – driven by determination’, Prime Moving Magazine, February 2012, ^http://www.primemovermag.com.au/featured/article/cartage-australia-driven-by-determination]

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The Big Sell

At the outdoors meeting on Friday 10th February 2012 staged by Cartage Australia to a handful of the local community at Katoomba, the demostration truck was all but straight out of the factory.  It was bright, shiny, new tyres, flawless and made for selling the company’s point of view.  The sell was all about providing Performance Based Standards (PBS) for trucking to get around the 19 metre truck length restriction.  That needs to be explained by government.

Director Wayne Vella explaining all the positives about his shiny FM480 Volvo

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But when Vella started his long spiel about the truck’s  state of the art features and benefits, the focus became all about the magnificence of his showroom truck and not about the community’s concerns about copping more and longer trucks through the Blue Mountains.

Vella argued that it was not a B-double, but look at the photo of it:

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We had to laugh when Vella professed that:

“the exhaust is so clean you could breath it.”

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“We have applied for a special exemption and this requires us to satisfy all the high performance safety standards in place and also to show the State Government evidence of community support for these trucks.     “If we get the nod, we could replace the dog-tipper trucks [used at Hartley Quarry to transport coal to Sydney via the Blue Mountains] with Volvo 500 rigid class trucks within four weeks.”

This is Cartage Australia’s current proposal to service the Hartley Quarry
1 truck every 17 minutes

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This is a Volvo FM480 too and it carts fuel and meets the Euro standards.
A B-double is a B-double.

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Here was the politically correct article on the subject published in the local newspaper a few days later.  It reads almost as a scripted media release by the trucking company on prime reading page 5.

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Company seeks truck length exemption’

[Source: ‘Company seeks truck length exemption’,  by Shane Desiatnik, 20120215, Blue Mountains Gazette, p.5 ^http://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/news/local/news/general/company-seeks-truck-length-exemption/2456181.aspx]

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A Victorian company hopes to gain the support of highway safety lobby groups for a proposal to operate a fleet of “longer but safer” heavy vehicles through the Blue Mountains.

Heavy vehicles using the Great Western Highway between Victoria Pass and Lapstone Hill are currently restricted to being no more than 19 metres in length.

But Cartage Australia has applied to the State Government for a 12-month special exemption to replace its old dog-tipper trucks servicing Hartley Quarry with new 22-metre Volvo trucks.

The company’s director Wayne Vella gave about 15 people a demonstration of the truck’s features at Goldsmith Place in Katoomba on February 10, which include a quiet and energy efficient ‘Euro 5’ standard engine, rollover protection, quiet disc brakes, GPS satellite navigation, 24-hour driver monitoring and larger load capacity.

He said the Volvo trucks set a new benchmark in road safety, did not use noisy compression brakes and three trucks would be able to carry the same load as four dog-tipper trucks, so the number of truck trips per day would decline significantly.

“Yes, the trucks are just under three metres longer than the current limit for the Blue Mountains, but they are not B-double trucks, they only tow one trailer and are only longer to include an extra set of axles to more evenly spread the load,” he said.

“We have applied for a special exemption and this requires us to satisfy all the high performance safety standards in place and also to show the State Government evidence of community support for these trucks.

“We have introduced these trucks in Victoria and we believe if we don’t take this step here you will end up getting older and older trucks on the road that never get replaced.

“If we get the nod, we could replace the dog-tipper trucks [used at Hartley Quarry to transport coal to Sydney via the Blue Mountains] with Volvo 500 rigid class trucks within four weeks.”

Blackheath Highway Action Group chairperson Michael Paag said he would forward information about the proposal at Cartage Australia’s request to members of all highway action groups and other organisations like the Katoomba Chamber of Commerce and Community.

“Members of the general public who are interested in obtaining information or providing feedback about this proposal can contact me,” he said.  (Ed.  Contact details withheld for privacy).

Mr Vella said he met with Roads and Maritime Services managers in Katoomba also on February 10 to discuss the proposal and notified Member for Blue Mountains Roza Sage in November when the application for the special permit was lodged.’

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Ed:  The message is beware of selective community announcements, as they are selective and not public for reasons to suit the purpose of the protagonist – in this case Cartage Australia’s potentially lucrative contract to truck thousands of tonnes of sand over the Great Western Highway – 1 truck every 17 minutes!

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NRMA on Truck Safety:

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Statistics show that road freight continues to grow 1.5 times as fast as the economy, with estimates that freight is expected to double by 2020.  The heavy vehicle industry constantly pushes for increases in length and load.

According to the NRMA, it is important for truck drivers to keep a safe following distance.  The NRMA believes any changes should be balanced with improved safety and environmental performance. As such NRMA would like to see heavy vehicles equipped with front, side and rear under-run guards (to ensure light vehicles don’t run underneath the heavy vehicle in the event of a crash) and ABS brakes. ABS brakes allow the driver to steer while braking heavily and minimise stopping distances.

NRMA also believes heavy vehicles should be equipped with tamper-proof, on-board monitoring and speed limiting equipment. Electronic on-board monitors can better observe driving hours and driver behaviour.

NRMA also sees a need for increased enforcement of heavy vehicle speed limits. The RTA has introduced its ‘Three Strikes’ scheme, aimed at penalising heavy vehicles which are repeatedly caught exceeding the speed limit (if three strikes are recorded in a three year period the vehicle’s regisitration is suspended). However, they do have to be caught first.  A trailer has a different licence plate number to the prime mover which can make it difficult to identify the vehicle when it is photographed from the rear.

NRMA would like to see all heavy vehicle camera enforcement use front and rear detection.

NRMA also supports opportunities to put more freight onto rail where distances are long and freight is suited to rail transport, but it’s naive to think that rail can transport everything.’

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[Source:  ‘Sharing roads with trucks’,  by Karen Fittall, ‘Open Road’  members magazine, NRMA, September/October 2005, ^http://www.mynrma.com.au/cps/rde/xchg/mynrma/hs.xsl/heavy_going.htm]

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Speeding trucks too dangerous for the Blue Mountains
[Source:  ‘Riverluck Mack’ Flickr, ^http://www.flickr.com/photos/quarterdeck/

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But the problem is not so much the performance of one trucking company that is aspiring to deliver best practice performance safety, as Cartage Australia is publicly promising.

The problem is the precedent created that permitting one company with 22m long B-doubles will be the thin policy wedge that will allow less conscientious truckers to ply regional roads through residential and school zones.  The problem is one of road safety and across the Blue Mountains, road safety especially when it comes to trucks, has a dismal and worsening road toll record.   As the Great Westren Highway is transformed into a dedicated high speed trucking expressway, it becomes more dangerous.

Cartage Australia may indeed be offering the safest truck on any Australian road, but who is monitoring and enforcing best practice driver behaviour 24 hours a day?  No one!

Road behaviour is simply not monitored and enforced properly by government.  As more and bigger trucks speed along our highways, our highways are becoming dangerous life and death environments which is unacceptable.

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The Habitat Advocate recommends the following standards for the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains:

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  1. No B-doubles, only semi-trailers, rigid trucks and smaller to be permitted to use the Great Western Highway between Hartley and Penrith.  B-doubles to use the Bells Line of Road route.
  2. NSW Government to suspend all new expressway development, and instead to focus on a Safety First Policy, implementing safety improvements to the current Great Western Highway width between Lawson and Lithgow, noting that the widened sections east of Lawson all but completed or work in progress
  3. Government and freight industry to mandatorily have feasibility study into rail alternatives for any proposal for increasing road line haul – study to be independent and published online with a month of completion
  4. Minimum of four speed cameras and four red light cameras installed on the Great Western Highway between Hartley and Nepean River, all hidden and each rotated during the year.  This is to be a permanent arrangement.
  5. Minimum of three speed cameras installed on the Bells Line of Road between Lithgow and Windsor, all hidden and each rotated during the year.  This is to be a permanent arrangement.
  6. Quality controls introduced for heavy vehicle drivers with ongoing spot checks by both Police and RTA (RMS) – including, highway monitoring of driver behaviour – tail gating, exhaust brake usage, speeds, log book compliance, vehicle condition, load safety, mobile phone usage, higher professionalism standards, etc.
  7. Time-based pay to replace all trip based remuneration of all heavy vehicle drivers across NSW
  8. Heavy vehicle drivers required to respect and accept variable speed zones across the Great Western Highway, especially through towns and villages and the 40kph zone limits during school morning and afternoon – double demerits for heavy vehicle drivers to reflect the seriousness of heavy vehicles breaching these laws
  9. A mandatory concrete barrier to be installed on the entire length of the Great Western Highway between Lithgow and Penrith that an withstand collision by heavy vehicles to prevent head-on collisions
  10. A maximum 75kph speed limit for all heavy vehicles to be imposed on the Great Western Highway between Penrith and Lithgow
  11. The NSW Government to prepare an economic business case to show the Return on Investment and Pay Back  of the Mt Victoria Bypass estimated to cost $1 billion
  12. Prohibit heavy vehicle parking along the highway in Mount Victoria, particularly in the vicinity of the Caltex Service Station.  This to be signposted accordingly, monitored by the RTA (RMS) and fines to apply for transgressions
  13. RTA (RMS) to construct one fully accredited heavy vehicle rest area at Mount Boyce on both sides of the highway, and a second at Falconbridge on both sides of the highway to fully comply with the standards set by the National Transport Commission’s Heavy Vehicle Driver Fatigue Legislation, which came into effect on 29 September 2008.

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Postcript:

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Blue Mountains Gazette 20071001:

Victoria Pass
Monday, 1 October 2007
Posted By Dean Driscoll, Mt Victoria.

‘Another horrific accident going down the hill at Mt Vic on Sunday. The whole zone from just east of the township to the bottom of the mountain is 60km/hour yet a large percentage of drivers going through Mt Vic seem to struggle to brake to that limit. Surely the area must be regarded as a black spot?

With persistant tail-gaters trying to speed their way through as if it was a freeway, it is time the authories give a serious look at how to manage an out of control situation’.
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