BOUNCING ALONG THE NEWELL
The Newell Highway is one of Australia’s main road-freight routes, but for too long the flawed road surface has been a quick-fix patch-up job, writes
I HAVE BEEN travelling the Newell Highway now for well over 20 years. In that time, the rate of traffic has increased substantially and will continue to do so. When the Melbourne to Brisbane rail line is opened, there will likely be changes to some freight, but by then most truckies will be waiting for it to happen. I doubt it will become four lanes each way in my lifetime and traffic will only continue to increase.
There is a ‘Corridor Strategy’ for the Newell Highway done by NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), which I contributed to. I noted some deficiencies, including no mention of the narrow railway bridge just north of Bellata, among others.
While people on our side of the road commented it was the most significant dissection of the Newell they had seen, the RMS made no real comment or reply, so I don’t even know if they agree or not.
Well over 18 years ago I started contacting the three road authorities when I hit bumps and bounced over culverts. One would think for such an important freight route ─ perhaps third behind the Hume and the Pacific ─ there would be some overseeing body, instead of each state part being left to them. Many years ago, however, there was a Route 39 Committee and all three states worked together recognising the importance of the route.
Right now there are still sections in Queensland and Victoria I have been asking to have fixed for almost four years. The NSW section is not perfect, but after I’ve been pointing out the bad spots, they’ve been fixing them where and when they can. There is a major push currently, following funding from the privatisation of the state’s electricity poles and wires.
A little while ago, in the 15km section from Boggabilla southbound, there were at least 10 culverts that were so bad you could not only actually see them, you could not miss them. The impacts they put into every vehicle that travelled over them were substantial. Some of these have now been ‘filled’ three times, but with the rolling road rebuilding, more are slowly disappearing.
In March, I hit one culvert near the middle of the overtaking lane north of Kiga Bore rest area that showed on Tramanco’s Chek-Way Eliminator INS- COM software which is fitted to the TruckRight Industry Vehicle. It indicated a 2.36g impact, nearly two-and-a-half times the actual weight of the vehicle on the road. Being very nearly at maximum HML weights on all groups that trip, this equated to a 15.34-tonne impact on the steer, 40.12-tonne on the drive and a 53-tonne hit on the heaviest tri-axle group.
Are the suspensions built to do that daily? I doubt it, and with the number of trucks using the road during harvest, there was a lot of traffic hitting that culvert. The culvert will only get worse until it is fixed. The damage to the road will continue to increase, let alone the damage to the trucks and drivers.
I contacted the RMS the following day and they were not aware of the problem as they had not heard from anyone else. They had a look at it, conceded it was a problem and would be looked at within the week. It was patched, but is again failing.
Since the Federal Government relinquished responsibility for National Highways to the states, most
would agree that we are not getting the quality of the roads we should. The road is our workplace and we carry the nation’s goods across the country, but they will not acknowledge the road safety aspects of the job. With all the safety hoo-ha that has been taking over workplaces where we load and such, why is our safety on the road not considered in the same vein?
The impacts from the road contribute to fatigue, they impact directly on our health over time on the road and they destroy our trucks. The road authorities blame us for damaging the road, yet if the road did not have the failures, irregularities and deformations we hit, then far less of all the above would occur.
Yes, we have a large country and a relatively small population, and we cannot expect billiard table smooth roads across the whole continent. For we pay towards those roads, to the often lousy repairs which fail days or weeks after, to the millions of dollars’ worth of equipment sitting idle on the side of the road and the months it takes to fix one section, so are we are getting value for that money?
I have been told that up to 30 per cent of the cost of road building is now taken up by safety improvements. I agree that road workers should not be put in danger, but are we still left out? Where is our safety on the road network when the condition of the road adds to fatigue and puts undue strain and wear on mechanical components and on human bodies?
What can or will be done, not just to improve the Newell Highway or Route 39, but to ensure the roads on which we travel are fit for purpose and that is to deliver freight to the Australian public and to keep users of the road safe while operating on that road? It is a big question that must be addressed.
The analysis from Tramanco’s ChekWay Eliminator INS-COM software indicating the impact of a culvert near Kiga Bore rest area on a prime mover, steer and drive combination “The road authorities blame us for damaging the road.”
An accident waiting to happen: Commoran Creek north of the NSW border
The Newell over Brigalow Creek: careful with the drop-off
Wyaga Creek crossing: another substandard section of the Newell in southern Queensland
Boggabilla southbound means you’re heading into more culvert country