Yup, hard to believe but true. If you’re enough of a transport geek to be follow the minutiae of the Transportation Bill’s slow progress(?) through Congress, you’ll have noted that Fed Ex and a bunch of the other parcel/less than truckload carriers have convinced (with the help of a small army of lobbyists and a windfall of campaign donations) Congress to allow them to tack another 5 feet onto their 28 foot and change long double trailers. The result is an oddball (to put it politely) 33 foot trailer that won’t fit worth a damn on intermodal railcars that are designed to fit some combination of 28 and 40-53 foot trailers. Traditional rail flatcars are limited by track geometry to around 90 foot long, and the railroads have figured out how to fit two 45 foot trailers or a 53 foot and a 28 foot for a close coupled load that doesn’t irritate the wind overly much. The newer spine cars can efficiently fit 40 to 53 foot trailers or a pair of 28s, while the well cars used for containers and trailers are designed to fit the standard international 20 and 40 foot long containers and can usually adapt to fit some of the longer 45, 48, and 53 foot trailers. Plop a 33 foot long trailer in those slots and you get a bunch of wasted space and reduced train capacity. Worse yet, the gaps between trailers increase from a couple feet to a bakers dozen or more feet, destroying the “drafting” effect that along with the reduced rolling resistance of steel wheels on steel rails makes trains so efficient. With all this engineering stupidity alone in the bill, Obama has reputedly already promised a veto.

Now one would think the truckers would at least knock their heads together and come up with something smarter- double 40 foot trailers/containers are the worlds most common size and will fit around the interstate cloverleaf loops, which are in fact the pinch points for allowing longer trucks on the Interstates and major highways. Then allow more weight provided it’s carried on more axles, allowing heavier loads with less wear on the roads. It’d be a win-win that would be good for the environment and benefit all kinds of truckers… But Noooo!

Instead another group of truckers, the truckload carriers, are opposing lengthening the double trailers. These bottom feeders, known for their “one week wonder” drivers, seem to be in love with their obsolete 53 foot trailers, despite having pretty much paid them off over the last couple decades that they’ve been the standard. These are the truckers that haul the denser loads that push up against the federal 80,000 pound weight limit, and you’d think they’d demand a “me too” increase to 88,000 pounds (40 metric tons), which is pretty much the world standard. Heck, even those Swedish socialists allow 60 metric tons, the Germans 52 tons, and most of the rest of Europe at least 44 tons. But in a pronouncement that will haunt trucking for decades, the truckload carriers are opposing the increase in double trailer length, telling Congress and everyone else that a measly 80,000 pound (36 metric tons and change) weight limit is just fine, and they have no desire for more. Duly noted, as the American trucking biz continues their slow slide into irrelevance…

Meanwhile, the EPA coughed up their proposed fuel economy standards for big trucks for well into the next decade for comment. And despite the EPA’s rep (I heard them disparaged by even a democratic congress member yesterday), the regulations are actually quite workable and will save the trucking industry double digit percentages on fuel, and fuel is usually a trucker’s biggest cost. And unlike the car and light truck standards that require extensive testing and set hard MPG targets, the new EPA regulations require 8% to 24% improvement in MPG over the next dozen years… That’s doable. Recognizing the limited resources of small manufacturers that don’t even make their own engines, the EPA will allow them to use low tech methods like coast down tests or high tech fluid dynamics simulations to calculate the wind resistance of their vehicles, then plug in the fuel maps from their engine suppliers and parasitic drag data from drivetrain and tire makers to estimate MPG and comply. The EPA isn’t clumping all the trucks together in one bunch either… There are separate standards by usage, weight, cab type, trailer type, weight, and even for fire trucks and heavy haul tractors. The standards aren’t perfect… I’d like to see an aerodynamic allowance for cabover trucks and tractors, questionable technology like automated manual transmissions and predictive cruise contrail is favored, and could they please have done the whole thing in metric units and gotten the EC in on the deal?

But all in all, the EPA has produced a win-win that will cut greenhouse gases and trucker’s costs… But no doubt the same Teabaggers who complained about the democrats giving them cheaper health insurance will bellyache about saving $$$ at the fuel pump too!