Invasion of the gigatrucks

Is the EU about to allow gigantic lorries to start crossing national borders?  T&E's William Todts investigates.

Say ‘Sweden’ and you might think of an idyllic, green and eco-friendly country. And yet, Sweden is home to huge numbers of megatrucks, which aren’t so green and cuddly.

Whereas in the rest of Europe trucks are generally not longer than 16.5m and have a maximum weight of 40 tonnes, in Sweden 25 metre, 60 tonne trucks dominate the roads. And the Swedes clearly think bigger is better: earlier this year they started testing trucks of 32 metres and 90 tonnes, so-called gigatrucks or mega-megatrucks.

Elsewhere, megatrucks of the 25 metre variety are slowly spreading throughout western Europe. Denmark and Holland allow them and Belgium and Germany are conducting or preparing tests.

The Swedish gigatruck trial has already caught the attention of Danish hauliers, who are now pushing for their own ‘trial’ of 32m trucks. Bjarne Christensen, a representative of transport giant Schenker, told the media that he wants a connection between Gothenburg and Copenhagen. He added that the idea was inspired by the example of Australia, famous for its road trains.

However, crossing national borders with extra-large trucks is currently forbidden in the European Union. The effective ban on cross border traffic of extra-large lorries is what currently halts the spread of megatrucks in the EU - much to the annoyance of the road industry.

But now Schenker seems to have found an unlikely ally in EU transport Commissioner Kallas. He has indicated that he is prepared to bend the 16-year-old rules on cross-border traffic to allow for transnational megatruck traffic. According to an unpublished legal opinion, drawn up by Commission staff, if two countries reach a bilateral agreement on megatruck traffic, they could be exempted from complying with legislation on the maximum dimensions of lorries.  

This would open the door, not only for the cross-border use of megatrucks, but also for much longer and heavier lorries since ‘consenting countries’ could, in effect, introduce lorries of any length and weight they choose. 

The fundamental question is whether allowing megatrucks (or even gigatrucks) is really a sustainable solution. Its supporters claim that two larger lorries would replace three regular ones.  The economics suggest otherwise.  Road freight will become 20% cheaper.  A study we commissioned on the economics of road freight shows that this will lead to almost 20% more lorry transport.  So it’s safer to assume three megatrucks for three regular ones, than two. On top of this, rail freight, which is generally greener, especially on longer distances, will also be hit hard.   Heavier lorries are also more lethal when they are involved in accidents, another reason for concern. 

Can lorries become sustainable?  T&E has some ideas about how to redesign existing lorries.  But it’s going to take much more than that.  Road pricing schemes and fuel efficiency standards for lorries will play a part.  Electrification of the road freight sector is also not out of the realms of possibility.  But it’s time the industry recognised that bigger, is not always better.  It’s going to take smarter thinking than that.

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