Road Train Versus Platooning

road train versus platooning

Following a recent trip to Australia, Will Shiers ponders the road train versus platooning question and asks why the UK doesn’t go down the road train route instead of trialling truck platooning.

“If you come home with a suntan I’ll be peed off,” said my wife, as I kissed her goodbye and headed to the airport, leaving her to look after the kids for five days.

She’s under the impression that whenever I go on a press trip it’s some sort of holiday, and that I spend most of my time sitting by a hotel pool, being waited on by scantily-clad cocktail waitresses. In reality, nine times out of 10 I’m actually stuck in an airport hotel, somewhere in Germany, being bored to death by an engineer, who wants to tell me about the modifications he’s made to a truck’s suspension components. 

There are exceptions though, and this was one of them. I had persuaded Volvo Trucks to invite me to Australia to spend a couple of days driving road trains, which to me is in actual fact the perfect holiday, not that I’d ever admit that to her! 

“And I want a decent gift too”, she added, “not one of those hats with corks dangling from it.”


road train versus platooning


The UK is about to embark on a truck platooning trial, linking trucks electronically, in the hope of saving fuel and increasing productivity. In my humble opinion this is an utter waste of £8.2m (AUD$15.2). Daimler can’t make the technology work on North America’s big open roads (see breakout box), so why does the UK government think it has potential on our crowded island? Instead of linking them wirelessly, surely it makes more sense to join the trucks mechanically? 

While numerous European countries have already introduced longer vehicles, the real experts are of course you guys down under, as you’ve been refining the road train concept over the past 80-plus years. The reason for my trip was to try three of your combinations, to assess whether any could have potential back in Blighty.

My 600km Queensland journey started in Brisbane, with a Volvo FH16 600 B-double set-up. Despite being 26 metres and weighing in at 60 tonnes, I was impressed by how manoeuvrable it was. The trailers tracked the prime mover far better than I was expecting, with considerably less cut-in than anticipated. And what’s more, it felt incredibly sure-footed and stable too.


road train versus platooning


In Toowoomba, we called in on Simon National Carriers, where we connected a third trailer, transforming it into a B-triple. We were now running at 82 tonnes and 32 metres. Finally, at Roma, some 475km from Brisbane, a fourth trailer was added, making us an ABB-quad. We were now running at a staggering 120 tonnes and 52 metres.

To put these figures into perspective (and explain why I was so excited at this point), the maximum weight and length of articulated truck and trailers permitted on standard licences in the UK is just 44 tonnes and 16.5 metres, while drawbars (truck and dog) can go up to 18.75 metres. 

Going back to my Australia trip, when I got home I ran a picture of the Volvo road train on the cover of Commercial Motor magazine with the attention-grabbing headline, “52m 120-tonne road train – could it work in the UK?”

No, of course it couldn’t! But I reckon your B-doubles could. They’re manoeuvrable, safe, productive and have the ability to slash the UK’s carbon footprint. Yes, we would need to make some infrastructure changes to accommodate their additional length, and of course additional training would be required too. But if you ask me, a good place to start would be using that £8.2m put aside for platooning trials.

Do I think we stand a cat in hell’s chance of the UK government actually agreeing to it though? I think there’s more chance of my wife learning to catch the boomerang I bought her in Brisbane Airport!


road train versus platooning