How Road Trains Work

The Man Behind the Wheel

If a guy's going to spend a considerable amount of time piloting upwards of 200 tons (181.4 metric tons) along lonely roads in desolate areas of the Outback, he's going to require some things in his truck. Manufacturers like Freightliner and Kenworth, among others, make the kinds of trucks that can haul these demonically heavy loads, and they make them in a million different configurations. Along with power and safety, driver comfort is critical for these long drives. Sleeper boxes and lockers are must-haves for most road trains, and a quiet cabin that shuts out the nonstop roar of the engine and the rush of wind will save a man's sanity. Air conditioning is a necessity, too, as temperatures in Western Australia can routinely reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). So that's fun.

Temperatures that hot mean the engine has to be vented and cooled within an inch of its mechanical life. Not only do cooler engines not, you know, explode in the middle of nowhere, but cooler engines also get better fuel economy. That's especially important on a route where there isn't a 7-Eleven every mile and a half (2.4 kilometers). Even if there were, it's not like pulling your 170-foot (51.8-meter) rig in for a quick fill up, cool down, and a Slurpee for the driver is going to work all that well. Speaking of exploding in the middle of nowhere, drivers may be 10-12 hours from a mechanic who knows how to fix his giant, expensive truck. Reliability becomes crucial in the Outback, where roadside assistance sometimes comes in a prop plane.

As if engine trouble weren't enough of a worry, there are two other big dangers for drivers of truck trains: their own fatigue and idiots in passenger cars. Drivers average 21 hours at a stretch behind the wheel, if you can even imagine, though the Australian Road Train Association (ARTA) frowns so heavily on this that drivers can probably feel the association's wrath, like the Eye of Sauron over the Outback, as they drive. ARTA recommends driving up to 14 hours per day, and stretching their shifts over a 14-day cycle rather than the more usual 7-day cycle.