Saturday, August 28, 2010

The first of the new monster trucks is here

This last week saw the first of the new breed of monster trucks appear - the new 22-metre truck-and-trailer unit with all of 10 axles was launched in Auckland before being driven with its maiden load to the Palmerston North home base of Booths Transport, which has spent about $500,000 on it.

But although it will be capable of carrying up to 53 tonnes under a controversial new permit system introduced by the Government in May, it will be restricted to a standard maximum weight of 44 tonnes on roads where bridges and other structures have yet to be strengthened to take the extra loads. These include Auckland's Southern Motorway, on which the Transport Agency needs to conduct assessments of 11 structures such as bridges over the Tamaki River and Puhinui Stream to see if they need upgrading.

Wait a minute - aren't Auckland and Palmerston North also connected by the North Island Main Trunk railway line? Yes they are. Isn't rail transport 18 times more fuel efficent than road? Right again. So why do we need these road smashing machines then - could it be that there is something wrong with the amount that the trucking industry pays for road use?

The same question arises over the government's plans to close a sizeable proportion of the North Island railway network. Secondary lines such as Napier to Gisborne, Masterton to Woodville, Stratford to Okahukura, and anything north of Helensville will soon be history.

No doubt this will please the trucking industry - no more competition - but motorists won't be so thrilled when they realise how much more congestion, both from the number of trucks and the frequency of roadworks to fix the smashed up roads, they are going to face.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jon Reeves is unimpressed, saying: "Although you can always paint things to look nice ... they are not as efficient as rail and they will be slower going up hills, making it a problem for other motorists."

Mr Booth, however, said the new truck would meet the most modern emission standards and, even before getting permits to carry extra weight, would give greater efficiency by moving 13 per cent more freight by volume than standard length 20 metre truck-and-trailer units.

Apart from the truck drivers' wages, it is quite hard to see how most other costs per truck will diminish as everything else is surely proportional.

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