They're called roadtrains in Australia and gigaliners in Germany. The extra-long trailer trucks are rolling across Germany in field tests, but only seven states are participating in the controversial project.
Extra-long trailer trucks have been thundering across select roads and highways in Germany in controversial field tests that began in January and are scheduled to last five years. Last year, the federal government passed a special provision allowing the extra long trucks in Germany under strict conditions.
Long trucks, called gigaliners in Germany, can weigh no more than 40 tons and are not allowed to transport dangerous materials or liquids, and the vehicles must be equipped with a camera to keep a close watch on traffic behind the truck. Regular trailer trucks on German roads have a maximum length of about 18 meters (60 feet); a long truck can measure up to 25 meters.
"Unpredictable monster trucks"
Five months into the field tests, only seven of Germany's 16 states have signed on to participate. The other states have remained opposed to testing what some have called "unpredictable monster trucks." Opponents pointed out a number of problems, including traffic safety issues in a densely populated country and possible damage to roads, intersections, railroad crossings, bridges and tunnels because of the trucks' added weight.
The field tests are aimed at weighing just those risks - as well as the potential advantages if Germany were to allow long vehicles in the long run. It is certainly not about shifting freight off the rails and onto the road, said German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer.
"Where three regular trucks are on the road today, we only need two long trucks in the test," he said. "Automobile suppliers, the food industry and parcel and courier services only stand to profit."
The majority of goods in Germany are currently transported by trailer trucks with about 3.1 billion tons of materials being driven around the country in 2010. Rail, sea and river shipping combined amount to about 1 billion tons of freight.
Shipping companies interested in participating in the test project turn to the Federal Road Research Institute (BASt) - but registration has been a slow process - of about 50 inquiries eight firms participating in the test phase with 13 long trucks.
In February, Bavaria's Ansorge shipping company was the first to send out an extra-long trailer truck. Manager Wolfgang Thoma said he is pleased with the test so far. He said the company's two extra-long trucks covered 19,000 kilometers in the past four months and that he had noticed "economic and ecological advantages" to the longer trailers.
The mega trucks carry 50 percent more freight than regular trucks, he told DW, cutting fuel and emissions by about a third per pallet loaded. All shipments went completely smoothly, Thoma said, adding that he expects more roads will be approved for his long trucks soon.
Other companies haven't been as lucky.
Voigt Logistics is still waiting for a go-ahead while their two gigaliners gather dust. Jörg Braatz, Voigt's fleet manager, applied to participate in the test run five months ago, and the firm invested thousands of euros in its extra-long trailers - but approval hinges on what are termed the "last miles." BASt has not given a green light yet for the few hundred meters of country roads from the highway exits to receiving companies' loading docks.
"As a business, we don't understand get it, it's mystifying," Braatz told DW.
Germany's Social Democratic and Greens Party, in the opposition on a federal level but part of governments in several states, are critical of the long truck test runs. In March, the parties' parliamentary groups filed a lawsuit against the project.
According to Ulrich Battis, a constitutional lawyer in Berlin, the government's special provision violates Germany's Basic Law, or constitution, by curtailing parliamentarians' rights. Both the lower and the upper houses of parliament should have been involved in a decision-making process, he told DW. The Transport Ministry was unperturbed, however, and maintained that the test project complies with German law.
What is a test in Germany has become reality in other European countries and at up to 60 tons, mega trucks in the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland are even heavier than what's being tested in Germany.
But Australia's roadtrains take the cake: there, 50-meter-long trucks that weigh more than 100 tons charge across the continent.
Author: Anja Fähnle / db
Editor: Sean Sinico