OVER the past dozen years there has been a quiet revolution on Australian roads, not that the average road user has noticed any change.
The introduction of Performance Based Standards (PBS) rated vehicles has increased road transport efficiency in most states, but the visible on-road package of these vehicles raises little extra interest to road users outside those in the road transport industry.
It was a different matter back in the late 80s and 90s with the introduction of B-double trucks.
These were very visible and for a start the common name for these trucks were B-Trains, a name changed throughout the industry by pressure to tone down the perception of the new combinations, although there still was an adverse reaction from the public with these road giants all of a sudden entering city areas even though they were confined to B-double routes.
While the productive efficiency of vehicles under Performance Based Standards is certainly significant, the increase of payload has been subtle in public perception, with only those with a knowledge of road transport noticing bigger vehicles and that neck twisting double take the first few times you notice a pocket road train growling down the mountain at Toowoomba and similar places along the eastern seaboard.
The evolution of the PBS combination was forged between the varying forces of an industry wanting more efficiency per road unit, therefore more profit per single investment and outlay on drivers, fuel and other running overheads.
On the other hand was the reticence of statutory and enforcement bodies, claiming extra loads meant extra wear and tear on roads and infrastructure such as bridges, not to mention the bureaucratic inertia that is inherent in government bodies.
The technological development of running gear on trucks and trailers, which since the turn of the century has improved significantly, created a common ground for discussion between industry and government departments.
Add a couple of clear-sighted individuals on both sides of the equation and a conversation developed that led to the introduction of PBS combination vehicles, now used in most states.
The catalyst that kicked off the PBS revolution was a National Transport Commission (NTC) report in 2006 that forecast that Australia's land transport task would double by the year 2020.
The combination of these factors led the states and the Productivity Commission to allow an accelerated development and acceptance of what was known as a high productivity freight vehicle, termed the HPFV.
The Productivity Commission and Austroads predicted that there were flow-on benefits of the move valued at $5.6billion, half of this amount coming as a benefit to manufacturing as well as transport.
The HPFV development was directed by the NTC being pushed by industry and the 2006 predictions on the concept of PBS was formed.
Truck manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and big players in the road transport industry worked together to develop this vehicle that allowed design improvements that could operate with a higher level of efficiency on transit routes that were found to have a suitable level of structural integrity and road safety.
The development of the PBS scheme was started under the auspices of the NTC and the baton was passed to the newly developing National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) based in Queensland.
Today the NHVR is responsible for the almost 5000 approved heavy vehicle combinations under PBS, covering many thousands of trailers as well as administering the approval process.
Under PBS, the mass per square centimetre road pressure is not increased, rather the actual rubber to road surface is increased so we see the PBS combinations running with more axles, including tri-axle dollies, trailer combinations and twin-steer prime movers to give a safe relationship between weight on the road and structural resistance.
The ongoing avalanche of technical development such as braking management, modern truck/trailer combinations, the introduction of stability and electronic safety controls have gone hand in hand with the development of the PBS combination.
While the evolution of Performance Based Standards and HPFVs has been driven by industry needs, it has become a matter of surfing fast-changing technical boundaries and challenging the possibilities of modern vehicle and trailer design.
Tempered by road safety requirements and public perception, the developments of standards head into the future.
While there has been some public resistance to the increased mass of these vehicles, largely they have been accepted on Australian roads and there is little resistance to further development on these multi- axle road combinations that will increase per tonne/ kilometre efficiency and help maintain growth in driver scarcity in the next decade.