To safely transport millions of litres of fuel each year on one of the world's most treacherous roads takes a combination of guts, skill and top-notch engineering. Thanks to a partnership between Viva Energy, Toll and two of Australia's finest vehicle manufacturers, that's exactly what's been delivered.
The notorious Tanami Track, located between Alice Springs and the north-eastern corner of the Kimberley, is one of the worst roads in the world. It’s also home to one of Australia’s biggest gold mines. So when Viva Energy was contracted to supply diesel to the isolated mine site, only the toughest truck in the world would be up for the task.
Viva Energy partnered with Toll Group, Holmwood Highgate and Penske Commercial Vehicles to design a fleet of road trains packed with innovations to deliver safe, efficient and reliable performance. These trucks deliver thousands of litres of diesel to the mine site every day.
Conditions on the Tanami
Chris Garrett, General Manager of Fuels at Toll Group, understands the challenges of driving on the Tanami Track. Blistering heat, sudden downpours and constantly changing conditions are just the start. “Severe corrugations mean the truck’s speed can vary from 60km/h all the way down to 10km/h,” he says. “Road conditions can change on a daily basis with rain turning the track from a hard surface into a wet and slippery road overnight.”
The round trip from the Port of Darwin to the customer site is a 4,100km journey, taking 67 hours – or five full days. “It’s definitely the longest customer supply chain for Viva Energy,” says Felix Ohle, Logistics Business Manager at Viva Energy. “When you think about the risks involved with a single person driving that sort of distance and moving fuel, there’s a fair bit involved in terms of planning, expertise and knowledge.”
Chris agrees. “Road train drivers are as skilled mechanically as they are as truck drivers,” he says. “In isolated conditions, the drivers often have to deal with tyre and electrical issues themselves. It can be the difference between being broken down for two hours or two days.”
Understanding the challenges of the Tanami Track was the first requirement. But a team approach was critical to success. “Making single-headed decisions was quite difficult because there was so much involved,” Felix explains.
Partnering with Toll allowed Viva Energy to draw on Toll’s extensive experience in the transport industry. “There were a couple of elements of the equipment that worked quite well in the past that we kept, and others that we changed because Toll thought there was an opportunity to do things slightly differently, and they came up with a different proposal,” Felix says.
Innovation was key and the key question was how to reduce the number of trucks, and minimise or reduce the exposure that a driver needs to actually travel with the fuel. The answer was simple: make the trucks bigger.
Jason Stables, Technical Director at Holmwood Highgate, who built the tankers for the road trains, says the brief was to design a vehicle that could cart the biggest possible volume of fuel on one of the worst roads in the world. So they designed a unit that could cart a quad combination – four trailers. “Not only are we driving down a road with the hardest-conditions in the world, we’re driving with a 53.5m long, 164-tonne vehicle. We’re doing it every day,” he says.
“This design is purely about strength,” Jason adds. “It’s a Sherman tank.
“We specified the strongest axles we could find, the strongest suspension, all the strongest options on those parts, we upgraded brakes … just to make the axle the strongest piece of equipment we can.”
These quad-combination trailers are coupled with 7 Western Star 6984 FXC tri-drive prime movers, packed with customised features especially for the Tanami operation.
The innovations in the prime movers are all about driver safety. Jason Bezzina, former Fleet Sales Manager with Penske Commercial Vehicles, who supplied the prime movers, gives the lowdown. “They include roll stability control (RSC), AIR CTI to monitor tyre pressures, four-post heavy-duty bull bars and ICEPACK 2000S diesel coolers to provide cool air in the cabin overnight to ensure drivers are well rested,” he says.
Driver safety is also of utmost importance to Toll. Drivers are trained on the “Rules to Live By” and are fully briefed for each journey. They make sure they carry plenty of water, food, first aid equipment and appropriate shelters in the event the truck breaks down. Drivers communicate regularly with base operations sharing updates on any climate and weather conditions. Toll also remotely monitors the vehicle for any unexpected stops or changes throughout the entire journey.
With fatigue a major concern on the 4,100km drive, drivers follow strict rules to manage their fatigue on every ‘journey’. This includes working a maximum of 14 hours in any 24 hour period, resting for a minimum of 15 minutes after no more than 6 hours of driving, and having a continuous rest break for at least 8 hours. Drivers are also encouraged to take any additional rest breaks required to ensure safe travel.
But, it’s the Guardian face and eye-monitoring system to gauge driver fatigue that’s really turning heads. Coupled with a satellite system, this technology ensures road train drivers stay alert and safe on the long journey. For Felix, task specific innovations such as these are crucial to maintaining a competitive edge, allowing the team to “deliver a service that’s not only reliable and efficient, but safe at the same time.”
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