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Brian Simpson MEP hosted a reception for Freight on Rail in Brussels on
10th November.

Examining the benefits of rail freight compared with mega trucks

Mega Trucks
German Trials Allianz pro Schiene/Kraufmann

Freight on Rail recognises that road and rail complement each other but large quantities of long distance freight can be more sustainably and more safely carried by rail than in even larger lorries, 25 metres long and 60 tonnes in weight.

The proponents’ case is predicated on mega trucks, which would be fifty per cent longer and a third heavier than existing trucks, delivering a significant reduction in vehicle kilometres. The assumptions for safety and environmental improvement depend entirely on the prediction of a dramatic reduction in vehicles kilometres on the premise that 2 mega trucks would replace 3 HGVs. However, their calculations  are derived from very high levels of load utilisation – in excess of that routinely achieved within the haulage sector. Given that the average utilisation factor across the EU is currently 40-45%¸ until there is a rational basis for all existing HGVs to be used more efficiently it is questionable how assumptions can be made that mega trucks will have higher utilisation than existing HGVs.  

When empty and partially loaded, mega trucks will use more fuel per vehicle kilometre because they are heavier than current HGVs. Currently around 25% of lorries over 30 tonnes are running empty in the UK and load factors hover around 73% for HGVs over 33 tonnes.  Source CSRGT

What History shows us
Previous increases in lorry dimensions have resulted in more lorries driving around less full, causing more road congestion and more pollution, which is the reverse of what was claimed would happen. The proponents of mega trucks are using the same flawed arguments again.

DGTREN sponsored research
So far this research has been too simplistic, has had two significant mathematical errors which distort the analysis in favour of mega trucks and uses a network model with few freight zones. The EC’s own internal consultants admit the model used is not reliable for shorter distances because the resulting increase in vehicle kilometres would not be recorded if a depot closed within Scotland, for example, one zone. Any future research needs to look at specific geographical differentials, different commodity markets, different growth assumptions and a range of parameters ie elasticities. There is a huge risk that mega trucks could create more carbon emissions by simply moving the same amount of freight further afield as well as undermining low carbon alternatives. 

If Europe were to give the go-ahead for cross border traffic these mega trucks would go to member states by default over time. Such a move would also fly in the face of public opinion that is consistently and strongly opposed to the measure.

1. Mega trucks have dangers of their own due to their size and lack of manoeuvrability
The European Commission's own research in Jan 2009 stated that mega trucks are individually more dangerous than standard HGVs. – TML Effects of adapting the rules on weights and dimensions of HGVs  as established within directive 96/53/EC P14 penultimate line 6 November 2008 DGTREN website
Rail freight is safer than long-distance road freight using motorway and A roads, as HGVs are over 3 times more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than cars due to a combination of size, lack of proper enforcement of drivers hours, vehicle overloading and differing foreign operating standards. Source: Road Statistics 2008, Tables 3.2 and 3.6, Road Freight Statistics 2008 Section 5, both UK Department for Transport
Mega Tucks have the potential to be considerably more dangerous to road users. A 60 tonne mega truck travelling at 80 km/h possesses almost the same momentum as a 40 tonne HGV moving at 100 km/h, with a correspondingly longer breaking distance.

The double articulation of a mega trucks improves manoeuvrability at slow speeds, but increases side to side oscillation ie a “snake” (rear amplication) and problems with other manoeuvres at crusing speeds, for example changing lane on a dual carriageway. Overall weight and length increases would increase the forces involved and thus the strength of these outswinging movements.

2. Rail freight which has a much better environmental and safety record than road
UK rail freight produces 70% less Carbon dioxide emissions than the equivalent road journey.Compared to HGVs’ 3 % share of the EU vehicle fleet and 7% of vehicle-Km driven, HGVs are responsible for almost a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport and 5-6% of total EU CO2 emissions – CE Delft Are trucks taking their toll? Jan 200/ DfT Logistics Perspective Dec 2008 p 8 section 10

3. In the UK mega trucks would destroy the entire intermodal rail market (ie containers) and 50% of bulk traffic forcing the traffic back onto congested roads  EU research admits that mega trucks would have a detrimental effect on rail freight. Source JRC LHVs  freight transport 06/2009 P2

Comparative sizes4. Road haulage industry has a poor record in complying with existing road regulations
In the UK over 82% of HGVs exceeded their speed limit of 50 mph on dual carriageways and almost three-quarters exceeded the 40 mph limit on single carriageway non-built up roads in 2007. VOSA spot checks in October 2008 found that half of UK registered HGVs stopped were breaking the law. International Freighting Weekly  21st October 2008.

5. Longer heavier lorries will have minimal impact on road congestion whereas with the heaviest UK train can remove 160 HGVs from our roads. Source Network Rail 2009.

6. Trying to restrict mega trucks to dual-carriageways and motorways will not work
The promoters are claiming that these vehicles will be restricted to motorways, dual carriageways and major roads. The reality is that these vehicles will need local road access to distribution hubs not on motorways/dual carriageways.

7. HGVs are up to 160,000 times more damaging to road surfaces than the average car; some of the heaviest road repair costs are therefore almost exclusively attributable to the heaviest vehicles. Taxpayers have to pay for adaptation and maintenance of the road network.

Contact  Philippa Edmunds on + 44 (0) 20 8241992

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