Longer trailer trial to start in January

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The Department for Transport is to conduct a ten-year trial of 1,800 longer trailers and is inviting operators to participate in the programme.

Half the semi-trailers will be trialled with a maximum length increase of 1m (between 13.6 and 14.6 metres), and half will be trialled with a maximum length increase of 2.05m (between 14.6 and 15.65 metres).

The move has been welcomed by the Freight Transport Association and larger transport operators. However, the Road Haulage Association is still concerned about the potential impact on its members who might have to invest in new equipment. And the rail lobby is unified in its opposition.

The decision follows a consultation on the length increase. Announcing the trials, transport minister Mike Penning said research predicted that the larger trailers would reduce lorry miles in the UK by 100 – 180 million a year by 2015.

Participation in the trial will be on a voluntary basis and at the participants’ own risk. there is no guarantee that the use of the longer semi-trailers will continue to be permitted beyond the end of the trial period. The trial will run for ten years, to allow those businesses wishing to participate the opportunity to cover the costs of investment in the longer semi-trailers. Expressions of Interest are invited from today, with the trial starting in January 2012. Information on how to apply can be found on the DfT website.

The DfT will appoint an independent contractor to monitor and review trial progress. The contractor will report to the Department on a four monthly basis; at the end of each trial year the Department will review progress towards objectives, including considering any changes to the length of the trial and the numbers of trailers involved in the trial.

Penning said: “Our baseline research shows that the ability to operate longer semi trailers would provide clear benefits to business and a spur to efficiency and growth. We expect the trial itself to offer a net present value of £33m, largely due to the financial benefits operators should see over the ten year length of the trial (around £1,800 per vehicle per year). We would expect many of these benefits to flow through to the consumer.”

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Wincanton has been working with the DfT throughout the process and its research found that the trial of longer trailers would:
* Increase unit load capacity by an average of 15 per cent, or four pallets which is equivalent to 40, 32” television sets or 17,000 boxes of aspirin
* Lead to estimated CO2 savings in the UK of up to 163,000 tonnes
* Result in fuel savings of up to £85 million annually, again mitigating against rising costs

Technical director Dave Rowlands said: “Longer semi-trailers will be integrated into Wincanton’s fleet almost immediately as a key element of our sustainable transport strategy and our commitment to reduce our impact on the environment.

“Not only will the introduction of longer trailers drastically reduce the amount of CO2 into the environment, it will also ease congestion on UK roads, improve productivity by some 15 per cent and reduce crippling fuel costs which, in turn, can help us limit our customers’ exposure to rising costs.”

Rowlands urged the DfT to evaluate the trial quickly to speed their acceptance as a vehicle standard which will allow the industry to operate the trailers at their optimum level.

And Dave Lowther, operations services director at Screwfix, a customer of Wincanton operating nearly 100 trailers from five major bases in the UK, said: “We always try and embed sustainability into all aspects of our operations and we welcome any avenue to lessen our impact on the environment. The adoption of the longer semi-trailer offers a significant opportunity to help us reduce carbon emissions from our transport operations”.

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Eddie Stobart has been supporting the campaign for longer trailers. Chief operating officer William Stobart said: “Eddie Stobart has already undertaken significant evaluation of two key sizes of trailers and we see considerable opportunities for the metre option within our operations. We believe these trailers will help take trucks off the road, reduce carbon emissions from the industry and we are looking forward to seeing the operational and environmental benefits the trial will bring.”

Andy Mair, head of engineering policy said: “FTA research suggests that there are significant environmental and efficiency benefits on offer from deploying these vehicles. But it is not a vehicle for all sectors and will only be viable on journeys where the goods carried are high volume, low weight as vehicle fill can be improved. Consequently, the number of journeys will be reduced and the number of lorry miles cut.”

The FTA suggested that if there were an over-subscription for the number of high volume semi-trailers authorised under the trial, operators who could demonstrate the greatest efficiency benefits should be prioritised.

CILT Chief Executive Steve Agg said: “Establishing this trial is a sensible response following the consultation and it gives industry the chance to review the innovation and test its implications for our infrastructure, the environment, all road users and consumers alike.

“It is a fact that for many high volume but low weight goods which are on the move every day, the lorry runs out of carrying capacity by volume well before maximum weight levels are reached. There is a good argument for suggesting that, for some goods, trailer lengths can be increased producing operating and environmental benefits generated by the need to use fewer vehicles.”

The Road Haulage Association expressed reservations about the proposals during the consultation. Director of policy Jack Semple said the trials would have a material impact on the haulage industry.

“It is clear that the industry is split on the issue of longer trailers, with the majority of transport companies opposed to them being allowed on our roads for a variety of reasons that we set out those concerns in our consultation response. That opposition has if anything strengthened in recent months.

Nevertheless, he said: “We will be urging our members to assess, as a matter of urgency, how many of the new lengths to apply for, which length suits their business, and which axle designs are best for their operation.”

Mark Cuskeran, managing director of SDC Trailers, said: “The trial is an important milestone for the UK trailer industry and the road haulage sector as a whole. Trailer manufacturers don’t usually get a chance like this to make a real and tangible environmental difference to the sector. We’ve developed and tested three extended trailer products and this experience now puts us in a strong position to meet demand from operators wishing to take part in the trial. We’ve secured production and supply of steering axles and we believe that puts us ahead of the game.”

However, the decision to run the trial was criticised by the Rail Freight Group which said longer lorries would have a devastating impact on the prospects for rail freight growth in the retail sector.

Policy manager Maggie Simpson said: “The DfT’s decision to proceed with trials of longer lorries is a blow to the rail freight sector, and raises questions about this government’s commitment to greener transport. We will now be pressing to ensure that the trial will be properly representative, and will address the major concerns associated with these vehicles.”

And Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, the rail lobbyists, said “The reality is that these longer HGVs are more dangerous than existing ones and will result in increased congestion and more injuries and even deaths for pedestrians and cyclists. We believe the research underlying this decision is flawed – the claimed economic benefits are exaggerated and the impacts on railfreight and on other road users are underestimated. We hope the government will monitor these trials closely and be prepared to reverse its decision if the original report is wrong.”


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