by Rafael Seidl
|A gigaliner from Boll-Logistik-Gruppe under testing. Click to enlarge.
Several German Länder (states) are presently conducting trials of so-called gigaliner heavy duty vehicles (HDV). These consist of a tractor-trailer towing a second large trailer, for a combined length of up to 25.25m (82.8ft). Costing little more to purchase and operate than conventional tractor-trailer rigs, each gigaliner can transport 50% more cargo. Transportation ministers are hoping this could help unclog Germany’s autobahn network.
On long-haul routes, gigaliners could reduce diesel consumption per ton of cargo by almost 1/3. In addition to reduced CO2 emissions and dependence on foreign oil, reduced overheads should permit profitable operations without jeopardizing traffic safety.
In theory, the combined gross vehicle weight rating of a gigaliner could reach 60 tons but will likely remain limited to 44 tons initially—the maximum permissible weight of certain HDV configurations today, making early reinforcement of bridges and overpasses unnecessary.
Some 162 gigaliners have already been in operation in the Netherlands for several years. The traffic ministry there concluded in 2005 that giga-liners are, if anything, contributing to overall traffic safety because they help reduce the number of vehicles on the roads.
Close slipstreaming concepts that permit multiple independent HDVs to reduce overall fuel consumption by traveling in close pproximityto reduce wind resistance remain stuck on the drawing board. The required vehicle-to-vehicle communications and master-slave control of vehicle steering, speed and brakes are not yet considered robust enough for safe operation of such HDV convoys.
Nevertheless, there are lingering concerns that the additional 6.5m (21ft) in length will generate dangerous situations on Germany’s secondary roads as passenger cars try to overtake them. Also, autobahn rest stops and many freight transfer points are currently unable to accommodate vehicles combinations of such great length.
(Even longer “road trains” routinely transport goods in Australia and parts of North America, but the terrain and traffic conditions there are not comparable to those in central Europe.
The final bone of contention is that the reduced operating costs of gigaliners could undermine current efforts to shift freight off the road and onto trains. A combined road-and-rail freight service offered by the Bundesbahn to entice customers without a rail spur to their premises handles just 5% of total road freight volume today, but it is growing by 10% annually.
Competition for road freight business has become cutthroat in Europe, largely as a result of recent eastward EU expansion. Hauliers are increasingly caught skimping on traffic safety. In one typical police operation, more than 50% of trucks stopped at random yielded an infraction related to the qualifications or condition of the driver, excess load, cargo restraints or the condition of the vehicle. Serious cases involving broken or disabled brakes, bent and broken frames or suspensions, completely bald tires etc. are becoming more frequent, even though operators are denied permission to proceed and fined heavily.