New England Highway is not so new
René Bueman recently travelled the New England Highway, and wasn't impressed with this national route between Warwick and Newcastle.
Friends tell me I'm just getting soft in my old age and to stop complaining.
I'm happy to agree and comply, but I really don't think highly of the 800 kilometre stretch of New England Hwy that bumps and weaves its way from Newcastle to Warwick.
It's a physical and mental torture test for anyone driving a heavy vehicle.
I know of many sub-standard roads (the Olympic Hwy comes to mind) and I'm sure you have plenty of other suggestions, but I can't think of any blacktop highway so relentlessly unforgiving over such a long distance as the New England Hwy.
Why would anyone use this road?
For me, the answer came in a rash moment about two years ago when I thought I'd skip from Brisbane to Sydney overnight. I wanted to stay away from the Pacific Hwy and it's hectic truck traffic, caravans and narrow bridges.
After all, the New England Hwy is officially the nominated national route between Brisbane and Newcastle (Sydney).
It was a brilliantly bad decision.
I remember stirring and grappling with the 18-speeder more than ever as I struggled up and down an eternity of (big) hills, through countless speed zones and a multitude of roadworks.
I had forgotten all of this when I started six scheduled runs from Newcastle to Brisbane recently, but it didn't take long for the potholes and bumps to jog my memory.
It's not the sort of road where you can settle down to 'making a mile'. There's the mining-assisted traffic jams through the Maitland area and the quirky population centres of Greta, Branxton and Singleton (everywhere I looked I saw a coal train - no GFC here).
Did I forget to mention the 10 speed-camera locations along the way?
Don't worry about cruise control, overdrive gearboxes and tall diffs on this road.
In fact, anything under 500 hp would struggle to see 100 km/h for any decent amount of time. Two kilometres per litre is just a fairy tale, even for single-trailer operations.
I reckon there isn't a one-kilometre stretch of straight, flat road between Newcastle and Warwick.
Any wonder that the New England Hwy is the only national inter-capital highway in Australia with a lower traffic volume than it's alternative route (the Pacific Hwy).
The highway also reached a new low in drivability after the recent heavy rains that covered much of the east coast of Queensland and New South Wales.
The subsequent floods closed the Pacific Hwy at Kempsey for about a week (the same week I was using the road) forcing every Brisbane/Sydney truck onto the New England Hwy.
It made my driving a nightmare.
When I pampered myself and slept in a motel, the nights were shattered by engine brake after engine brake - don't you blokes read the signs?
No wonder the town folk just shake their heads in dismay and mutter obscenities about trucks and truck drivers.
Rain and bad light made me quite scared when driving on the narrow shoulderless section of road south of Warwick.
The rain softened the road enough to add an average of three new pot holes per kilometre (yes, a slight exaggeration) and regular lengthy stops at roaming traffic-light-controlled roadworks became logbook events.
The rain also instigated the emergence of wildlife that used the highway to scamper between newly-formed lakes.
I learnt that turtles are huge risk takers.
The New England Highway is simply dangerous.
I heard it referred to as a goat track - that's not far from the truth.
René Bueman is an independent contractor to NC² Global (Caterpiller) in Australia and is essentially the OEM's test pilot for all their new trucks. He has an extensive history in transport operations running his own transport companies in the 1980s and 1990s as well as having a broad education covering engineering, journalism and computer science. He has also worked as an independent contractor with other OEMs in these areas - a handy bloke to have around.