Transport secretary Ruth Kelly has rejected proposals to trial more efficient lorries, claiming that they are impractical in the UK.
Referring to a study by the Transport Research Laboratory, Kelly said: “This study shows that super-lorries are not compatible with British roads. Not only are there clear environmental drawbacks, but such vehicles would be unsuitable for many roads and junctions, while providing the infrastructure to accommodate them would require substantial investment.”
The report shows that there could be worthwhile benefits from permitting a modest increase in the length of current articulated vehicles.
“The Department for Transport will consider this further in the context of its ongoing strategic work on freight,” it said.
The study looked at eight scenarios:
A. business as usual (44 tonne, 16.5m articulated heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and 44 tonne, 18.75m drawbar combinations – rigid HGVs towing single drawbar trailers)
B. an increase in the length of articulated HGVs from 16.5 to 18.75m – equal to that currently permitted for drawbar combinations, with the associated increase in unladen weight reducing the available payload
C. as B but with the maximum weight increased from 44 to approximately 46 tonnes to compensate for the increase in unladen weight (i.e. a payload neutral weight increase)
D. an increase in length to 25.25m, and in the number of axles from 6 to 8, with the associated increase in unladen weight reducing the available payload
E. as D but with the maximum weight increased from 44 to approximately 50 tonnes to compensate for the increase in unladen weight (i.e. a payload neutral weight increase)
F. as D but with the maximum weight increased to 60 tonnes (i.e. an increase in available payload)
G. an increase in length to 34m, the number of axles to 11, and the maximum weight to 63 tonnes, giving the same net payload as F
H. as G but with the maximum weight increased to 82 tonnes (i.e. a larger increase in available payload)
* The FTA has slammed Kelly’s decision, calling it “sadly negative and blinkered” and a “lost opportunity for carbon savings”.
Longer heavier vehicles could in fact lower costs and reduce carbon emissions by up to 30 per cent, according to the industry body.
James Hookham, director of policy at the FTA, said: “If carbon dioxide savings are the single most important factor in the Secretary of State’s decision, then she has just kicked into touch the most effective means of achieving double-digit carbon savings in the road freight sector.
“The report has rightly identified enormous complexities, including the risk of a shift in freight movements from road to rail. However, all she had to do was to talk to the logistics industry in order to sort out how any downside could be prevented and how to take maximum advantage of the major benefits in prospect.
“This decision will set a difficult tone regarding how carbon savings can be achieved in the road freight sector in the future.”
The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport agrees the move to reject super-lorries is a “wasted opportunity”.
The organisation says that while it acknowledges the credibility of much of the report, in particular the benefits of rail freight, it does not believe rejecting proposals for longer heavier vehicles is the right decision.
Steve Agg, chief executive of CILT, said: “The sensible decision would have been to specify trials which could have provided real data and tangible experience in order to reach an objective conclusion.
“We believe it would be straightforward to identify a simple core network for trials, based around the motorway network. Even if LHVs were approved it is likely that their usage would be limited and, in certain circumstances, they could actually make sense. Therefore, to say we are disappointed with this announcement is an understatement.”
Conversely, rail union RMT and rail freight operator EWS have both welcomed the government’s decision.
Bob Crow, general secretary at RMT, said: “LHVs would be bad for the environment and for safety, and would require massive new spending on roads that should be going into developing more sustainable modes of transport.
“There is and always will be a place for road-haulage, but sustainable transport development means moving freight that really needn’t be on the roads back onto on the rails.”
Graham Smith, planning director at EWS, added: “The decision firmly places rail freight as the key low-carbon and high volume transportation mode of choice for British industry.”