The Department for Transport (DfT) is considering increasing the maximum laden weight of articulated lorries operating on British roads from 44 tonnes to 48 tonnes to support rail freight operations.
Currently, the standard maximum laden weight for six-axle articulated lorries, when used on public roads in Great Britain, is 44 tonnes. However, some organisations have identified that allowing six-axle articulated lorries to be operated at 48 tonnes during domestic intermodal journeys would improve efficiency and support rail freight.
This is because, at present, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) carrying intermodal road or rail freight have a lower maximum payload weight than HGVs carrying road-only freight, due to the higher weight of the rail container and specialised trailer compared with a standard curtain-sided HGV.
Having carried out some technical assessments, the DfT has launched a consultation into a limited trial for six-axle articulated lorries, run by specific operators, to operate at 48 tonnes, while continuing to follow other existing rules, including maximum axle weights.
This could be permitted for repetitive container loads that travel along a set route. Increasing the load capacity for each lorry involved could reduce the number of lorry movements to service each train, with the operations liable to happen frequently, feeding into scheduled trains operating on one or more days a week.
The increase in maximum weight would:
- Be restricted to specific routes;
- Probably be limited to a maximum journey length (proposed to be 50 miles);
- Have to be part of domestic intermodal (road and rail) operation.
Accommodating a trial within the existing load-bearing constraints of bridges and other infrastructure is not straightforward, and it may not be possible to include some otherwise-useful routes.
The design and state of the national stock of bridges and infrastructure rule out a wider consideration of allowing 48-tonne operation outside specified and authorised routes.
During its preliminary technical assessment, the DfT found that:
- There might be significant public benefits if these operations help rail freight to a larger market share than would otherwise be the case;
- That, on routes where the road legs do not result in specific extra costs for relatively weak infrastructure, the quantified public benefits are likely to outweigh the costs and disadvantages;
- A real-world trial would provide a full and accurate picture of the costs and benefits of this proposal, along with highlighting other practical and commercial considerations, and allow a fully informed decision to be made around whether to roll the trial out further.
Commercial road transport operators interested in taking part in such a trial are invited to register their interest before 4 January 2021and provide information on some more detailed technical questions in the impact assessment.
Bridge owners are invited to consider implications on their infrastructure and operation.
Secondary legislation is likely to be needed to allow the trial to take place. This consultation will inform whether the DfT puts such legislation forward and gathers information on potential operators interested in taking part in the trial.