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The longest Trucks in the World

They are as much a part of Australia as kangaroos and the Great Barrier Reef: road trains supply remote areas with goods of all kinds. At over 50 metres long and weighing 130 tonnes, they are the kings of the road. But these giants spend their days exposed to extreme temperatures and aggressive dirt. A normal wash system simply wouldn’t be able to cope.

 

Kings of the road

There is some dispute about where the name of the Pilbara region in Western Australia comes from. Some people believe it comes from the Aboriginal word “bilybara”, which means “dry”. Others say that it is derived from the name of a local species of fish. Wherever its name comes from, the region features spectacularly beautiful nature and some of the oldest natural landscapes in the world. Endless deserts, rocky gorges and remote settlements. But there is another side to the region as well. It is at the heart of the Australian mining industry, which requires the transportation of large quantities of crude oil, salt, natural gas and iron ore.

To connect the region to the rest of this expansive country, the drivers of road trains have to cover vast distances. Road trains are huge trucks which are used in Australia to transport goods overland to remote regions. Nowhere in the world has more road trains or longer road trains than Australia. Hundreds of these vehicles are operated by the logistics company Linfox. Not only do they transport the mined natural resources, they also supply the region with vital goods such as food products or fuel.

Rob Harrison is a road train driver. He has done the job for 20 years and knows the area like the back of his hand. From the red sand of the expansive desert landscape to the crystal-clear water of the ocean – he has seen everything the region has to offer. And he has a passion for trucking.

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Rob’s day starts early. “I get up at 4:30 and do some exercise.” If you sit at the wheel for hours at a time concentrating hard, you need something to balance it out. “I like going swimming with friends” – but his favourite activity is stand-up paddle boarding. “I paddle through the water like a maniac on the board.” After training it’s time for work, at the wheel of a road train worth over a million dollars.

An important delivery

Today, he’s heading to Marble Bar, around 200 km inland. The diesel in Rob’s tanks is the elixir of life for the mine there. “Without our supply trips, the generators would give up the ghost, the canteens would have no food, the machines wouldn’t be able to run.”

Marble Bar is one of the hottest places in the world, with temperatures regularly exceeding 40 degrees. It is an inhospitable environment and a real challenge for people and machines. “If the temperatures reach 35 degrees, we get sandstorms. They look fantastic from a distance, but if you have to drive through one you’ll notice straight away that the sand settles on everything,” explains Rob. And the ever-present iron ore dust around the mines compounds the situation.


After travelling hundreds of kilometres on dirty and, in some cases, unsurfaced roads, everything is covered in dust. “It’s not enough to make sure that the product arrives where it is needed. I also have to make sure that the product is delivered safely in perfect condition without any contamination.” To ensure this is the case, Rob checks the tanks and cleans the connection points on the truck before the freight is unloaded. Then it’s time to get back on the road, through the expansive Pilbara landscape.

It is a region of extremes: in the rainy season, the rain is as intense as the hot, dry conditions are for the rest of the year. Between November and May in particular, sudden and heavy rainfall quickly turns the dusty roads into muddy tracks. This also presents a challenge for the heavy road trains. “You soon find that you’ve got 300 kilograms of mud stuck to the undercarriage of the truck,” says Rob.

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Cleanliness and safety go hand in hand

Whether it is dust and sand or wet mud, both compromise the reliability of the transporters. High safety standards and clean trucks are of paramount importance for Linfox. As a normal truck wash system is not suitable for the over 50-metre-long road trains, Linfox commissioned Kärcher to develop a cleaning system specifically tailored to the oversized vehicles.

The two companies worked in close collaboration to create a unique, state-of-the-art wash system. Thanks to the four-stage cleaning process, the giant vehicles only have to pass through the system once to get clean.

The first stage cools the road train down with cold water. This protects the surfaces in the subsequent stages. Next, the truck drives over a special system which cleans the undercarriage. At the same time, the wheels and sides of the vehicle are cleaned by multiple rotating high-pressure nozzles. In the third stage, a stationary pressure washer with four points of use on two levels is available if particularly stubborn dirt needs to be removed manually. In the fourth and final stage, the truck drives through an arch with high-pressure nozzles. This rinses off any remaining dirt. When it emerges, the giant vehicle looks as good as new.

Truck Wash

“The wash system makes life easier for us. In our industry, time is always an important factor,” says Rob. “Being able to clean my 50-metre-long truck in 15 minutes is amazing.” Before the new cleaning system was developed, the vehicles were cleaned with a pressure washer and lots of elbow grease. It took five hours to clean a single truck – valuable time that could be put to better use elsewhere. “Now I can simply drive through without having to do anything. I drive straight ahead and the wash system does everything else.”

After the cleaning stop, it’s time to hit the road once again and head back into the Pilbara’s vast expanses. “Despite the harsh conditions and brutal heat, this is a magical place for me.” Rob soon forgets about the isolation, loneliness, hard work and long days when he sees this unique landscape. “You just have to take the time to look around.”

Road Train Truck Wash

5 PILBARA FACTS

  • The Pilbara is one of the nine regions that make up the state of Western Australia.
  • 67,000 people live in an area measuring over 500,000 square kilometres.
  • The climate is characterised by high temperatures, low rainfall and low humidity.
  • The Pilbara has the world's largest iron ore deposits.
  • Alongside the mining and oil industries, tourism is also important to the region.
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