01/06/2010

Mail to a vast continent



by Karin Wik, Volvo Group Newsdesk

All over the world, people are waiting for the postman. Distributing mail is a complex and challenging logistical task, especially in Australia. 21 million letters and parcels are reaching their destination every day, despite vast distances and some of the toughest road conditions in the world. Without the right trucks, it wouldn’t be possible.

Twin beams of light cut through the darkness and driver Rick Hoyne is on the alert as he pilots his Volvo FH through the Australian night. A 22 year veteran with Australia Post, Rick is based in Melbourne and operates on three routes each week. His trips take him through all imaginable terrain and traffic conditions.

This particular night he is heading for Dubbo, a route covering more than 700 kilometres. There a different driver takes over, continuing the long journey to Brisbane. Rick is driving on a long straight stretch of the Newell Highway near the isolated town of Jerilderie in Western New South Wales. Kangaroos are a traffic hazard as they converge on the ribbon of tarmac. The region is in the grip of drought and the animals flock to the roadside where the grass growing along the verge is moist from the overnight dew running off the surface of the highway.

“Kangaroos can cause an awful amount of damage to a truck, particularly the bigger animals that have been known to jump through the windscreen. This is where the Volvos come into their own with cab safety. It’s a real blessing,” Rick says, staring intently through the windscreen and ready to take evasive action should the need arise.

Australia is known for having among the world’s toughest road conditions for trucks, and the people involved in mail transport have become extremely innovative and resilient as they battle adverse conditions. The weather in Australia varies from tropical storms with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius in the far north, to snow and ice in the Australian Alps in the south.

“The distances are vast so it is important that all aspects are taken into consideration to ensure on-time delivery,” says Chris Pearce, Manager Surface Transport, Network Distribution Transport, National Logistics Group at Australia Post.

The company handles postal distribution to all cities and towns in the country and has structured its services for on-time delivery across the nation.
The fleet consists of a total of 10,600 vehicles ranging from motorcycles to tractors with double semi-trailers in order to ensure delivery everywhere, from suburban streets to interstate highways.
Delivering mail in Australia is a huge logistical task. Australia Post handles 21 million postal items daily, of which two million parcels, and the figure rises to more than double that around the Christmas peak period.

With such enormous numbers the mail service demands exceptional efficiency in the high season. To handle such enormous volumes and deliver packages on time, it has been necessary to adopt an innovative approach to structuring the vehicle fleet, not least by specifying the trucks and trailers that best meet the needs of the assignment.

“Road conditions and weather, which can be extreme, are all taken into account and we have tailored our runs and equipment to maintain efficiency at its highest level,” says Chris Pearce.

125 Volvo FH trucks make up the core of the line haul transports. 65 of the trucks are pulling double semi trailers, so called B-doubles. The B-Double trailer is also used in other parts of the world but in Australia the system has been further developed to provide extended flexibility at a maximum gross weight of 62.5 tonnes while utilising cubic capacity to the maximum within an overall 26 metre length.

By using larger rigs, many smaller trucks can be replaced. This means more fuel-efficient transportation, lower emissions, less congestion, less road wear and increased safety.

With the installation of front underrun protection and high cab safety as standard, Volvo was one of the first truck makers to meet the legislation for 26 metre B Double rigs in the country.

Australia Post’s line haul vehicles cover a total of 25 million kilometres every year, the distance from the earth to the moon and back – 32 times over. In this regard, Australia Post has a fairly tough record to beat.

Distances between state capital cities are huge. From Sydney on the east coast to Perth on the west coast, the route covers 4,110 kilometres. That’s the same distance as the crow flies between Madrid and Moscow.

The line haul routes are ranging from densely populated areas to some of the most isolated regions in the country. All the trucks are fitted with Volvo’s transport information and driver alert systems. The strong and safe cab also plays a role in the operation as Australia has an ongoing problem with kangaroos crossing highways as well as loose livestock in unfenced regions.

“No run can be described as more dangerous than any other; they can all be tough at any time. Australia’s climate is very unpredictable, for example just weeks ago the temperature in the nation’s capital Canberra was minus 5 with black ice on the roads, yet in Darwin in the north it was 38 degrees,” says Chris Pearce.

Driver Rick Hoyne, on the lookout for kangaroos on his night route on the Newell Highway, points out that there are worse roads than this on his route.
 “You need to be comfortable to be safe. On long-distance routes fatigue is lessened when the truck you are driving is comfortable”, he says.

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