Why road trains are the heroes of bulk hauling

The story goes that road trains were invented by a certain Australian bush mechanic named Kurt Johannsen. After transporting stud bulls some 300km through the Australian Outback he was challenged to build a truck to carry 100 head of cattle rather than the usual load of 20.

It took him two years to build and his first road train consisted of a World War II Diamond-T tank carrier (apparently named ‘Bertha’) and two home-built self-tracking trailers. It was the birth of an Australian icon that has now gained popularity in various parts of the world, including Africa. 

Today, by broad definition, a road train is still the same thing as back then – a truck with multiple trailers. The basic configuration is a lead truck (usually a conventional tractor unit), which has one or more trailers attached. For this reason, road trains are also known as Long Combination Vehicles (LCVs). Due to their size, they are most suitable for countries with large expanses of remote land. Governed by different regulations in different parts of the world they can be up to 53.5 meters in length in the Northern Territories of Australia.

Here in Africa, we make use of them to transport products ranging from livestock, grains, fuel, salt and ore to construction materials. Road trains are also becoming a more common feature in the Southern African mining landscape for the efficient transport of both raw and treated minerals over distances between five and 100km.


Greater payloads = better cost efficiency
With the vastly increased carrying capacity the delivery efficiencies are greatly improved.  High transportation and fuel expenses make up the major portion of logistics costs in Southern Africa.

Reduction in fleet requirement
If a road train vehicle can be used optimally, the potential savings could exceed tens of billions of Rands each year in fuel savings, reduced damage to roads, as well a reduced number of heavy vehicle accidents.

Decrease in environmental impact with decreased emissions
A single-engine (on the lead truck) for a similar size load that would traditionally take various trucks means a direct (and significant) reduction in emissions.

Decrease in rate per ton
Not only is it more environmentally friendly but it also leads to a decreased unit cost per ton which can positively influence margins throughout the supply chain. 

Increased safety standards
Current road regulations define a prescriptive boxthat vehicles must fit into (height, width, length). By contrast, PBS aims to design the vehicle to perform at certain levels. Truck and trailers have to pass a set of 16 performance tests, which comprise a combination of low and high-speed manoeuvres, such as emergency lane changes, turning circles, acceleration and braking.

Read more about the different types of road trains, here.

Unitrans Africa is a leader in the fuel transportation industry in Africa with a strong footprint in countries like Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique.  PBS forms part of Unitrans Africas overall SHEQ (Safety, Health, Environment and Quality) and Performance strategies. The company is ISO-certified, complying with all the relevant safety, quality, health and environmental standards and is additionally registered on the RTMS.