The appearance of B-triple trucks on Australian's main highways has long been mooted, but recent reports on the NSW government's draft freight strategy indicate they could be plying the Hume Highway as early as next year. NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay appeared to discount the possibility of a trial within the next 12 months, but the extraordinary growth in freight movements over the past decade (and the forecast that this expansion will continue) makes it almost certain the three-trailered rigs will begin rolling down the main Sydney-Melbourne route within two years.
Mr Gay's studied equivocation about a trial on the Hume, and the NSW opposition's demand that the vehicles be speed limited to 80km/h, underline the reservations that surround the introduction of B-triples. They already operate on select freight routes in the state's west, and in the Northern Territory too, but those roads are nowhere near as busy as the Hume.
The Australian Trucking Association is in no doubt that B-triples are the logical answer to the problem of congestion on the Hume, and that once the highway's last bypass (around the southern NSW town of Holbrook) is complete, there should be no qualms about their use or their safety. Proving that to everyone's satisfaction will not be easy.
The B-triples likely to ply the Hume will be the most modern and therefore the safest rigs in the Australian fleet. Indeed, there is probably no practical reason why they should be limited to 80km/h, as the NSW opposition wants. But there is no disguising the fact many motorists, particularly those driving small sedans, will feel intimidated by these 35-metre-long vehicles. It is true, too, that although most of the accidents on the Hume involve passenger vehicles, some of the most horrendous and disruptive have involved large semi-trailers.
Rail would be the safest and most sensible way to deal with our growing freight movements. This is something on which many of our politicians agree. Oddly, however, governments appear to be in no hurry to facilitate the transfer, probably because it involves investing in rail upgrades. If we are indeed doomed to sharing the Hume with B-triple trucks, then it is up to the state governments of NSW and Victoria to ensure that the risks do not outweigh the benefits.
It's OK for some
Some people still awake at 3.25am on New Year's Day may have heard the unfamiliar clamour of a Boeing 747-400 taking off from Canberra Airport. No regular public transport aircraft this, it was was a charter flight taking Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio, several other actors, Hollywood personalities and hangers-on direct to Las Vegas. The extraordinary flight was to enable the revellers - who saw in the New Year in Sydney hours before - to fly back to the United States (losing a day crossing the international date line) to again witness the arrival of 2013. A curfew prohibits late-night flights out of Sydney Airport by large aircraft, so the party was flown from Sydney to Canberra by light aircraft and then transferred to the waiting jumbo for the 7268 nautical mile trip to Las Vegas.
Did the thrill of seeing in the New Year twice justify the logistics and the expense? There's speculation the Star casino, which hosted the group while they were in Sydney, may have picked up part of the tab. In any event it would not have been out of the ordinary for someone of DiCaprio's wealth and fame to charter a 747 for this trip. Indeed, the most problematic aspect would have been getting back to Vegas in time. Considering the lateness of their departure from Canberra, and factoring in the estimated flight time of more than 15 hours, the party may have struggled to arrive in Las Vegas before the witching hour.
But what of the other costs, including an estimated 135 tonnes of fuel burned over the Pacific - that's one way - which would have generated in the region of 370-480 tonnes of carbon dioxide? We hope it was worth it. DiCaprio is a fine actor who has been nominated several times for an Academy Award and has won a Golden Globe for his performance in, ironically enough, a film called The Aviator. That's as well, because he is unlikely to be nominated to serve as a goodwill ambassador for the environment.