WHERE ROAD AND R
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ARE COMPLEMENTARY • THERE was a time, especially between 1933 and 1999, when co-ordination of road and rail was an ever-present topic; so much so, indeed, that it became the custom to refer to that " blessed " word co-ordination. I put this word " blessed " in quotes with a full and complete realization of what that implies. Similar conditions will no doubt return: indeed, the subject has never quire receded into obscurity, or has it been forgotten.
We shall, no doubt, be discussing co-ordination of road and rail as energetically as ever when the war is over and planning for peace has come to include consideration of the relative spheres of road and rail in the scheme of inland transport for this country.
Now, this article is about inter-working of road and rail in a special, but not unusual or entirely novel, way. It is not, however, co-ordination—I want to keep off that word —but rather co-operation : not quite mutual aid, perhaps, but certainly the employment of one by the other to the satisfaction of both.
I say this inter-working is neither unusual nor novel because, when I was obtaining the information and taking the photographs around which this story is written, my mind went back to the days of my boyhood when I used to see the horse-drawn lorries and carts of independent contractors doing just the very thing which Mr. A. E. Meeks is doing to-day,at Luton, with his Bedford lorries.
He is, to describe an old kind of operation, completing or complementing the work begun by the railway companies, by conveying goods for them and their customers, from station to factory and from factory to station. The story is valuable, and worth the telling, for two reasons. It describes a somewhat intricate and interesting application of road transport, indicating the snags to be overcome and the organization necessary to ensure profit.
The goods yard from which Mr. Meeks operates is in the centre of a fairly congested industrial area, sO that, whilst he has actually 10 destinations to which he delivers these goods, the distance from the goods yard to the farthest of them does not exceed three miles: the .nearest is but a few yards away.
A good deal of the traffic is " two-way," that is to say, it comprises raw material, or part-finished goods conveyed from the goods yard to works and factories, and finished goods back to the goods yard, or, in a particular case which will be mentioned again and which is of interest for another reason, empty cardboard cases from rail to befilled at works and then returned to rail.
There is, as might be expected, a considerable variety of traffic amongst which the following are important:—Steel tubing, steel bars, lorry axle casings of two distinct kinds, forgings, small parts in cases, steel plates, springs for road vehicles, steel rings and certain items, which, for security reasons, I must call C and D.
Such varied traffic naturally involves a variety of methods in handling, of difficulties to be overcome, and of factors to be taken into consideration when planting and organizing the work. Naturally, no two classes of goods are alike in the problems they present to the operator, who has to unload them from railway wagons into lorries, or vice versa, •
Mr Meeks thinks that sheet steel is one of his most difficult traffics, especially if, as so often happens, the bonding of the steel sheets be broken and they are lying loose, so that they have to be handled individually. For the movement of sheet steel under these conditions two men have to be employed in the railway wagon. They lift the sheets one by one and stand them on a plank until the broken bonding can be entirely removed, when the sheets may be lifted in bundlesby means of a crane. There is one point of advantage here, inasmuch as the two men within the truck can be preparing the sheets for lifting while waiting for the motor lorry to come and collect them.
Next in order of difficulty in handling come road springs for commerci41 vehicles. These are troublesome because, in the first place, they are greasy, and, in the second, because they have to be loaded on their sides in the lorry. This means that as the weight of the spring is offset, the unit is awkward to handle.
Another point about road springs is that vehicle manufacturers insist that, when they are loadekl on to the lorry, . they shall be supported by wooden packing pieces so that they do not rub one upon the other while in transit. The laying of the springs and the placing of the packing pieces, naturally, adds to the time and care taken in loading. One advantage, however, so far as the road-transport operator is concerned, is that springs can be made up into a full load for the vehicle.
• It has been mentioned that there are two kinds of rearaxle casing, and this distinction is made because, there is a differentiation in the time needed to deal with a 5-ton load of these forgings. The loading of both types of casing takes about the same time—approximately an 'hour for 5 tons. At one factory, however, they can be off-loaded in 10 minutes provided they be loaded so that, when they reach their destination, they can be pushed off the lorry, five at a time, on to the ground. In actual fact, if a
tipping lorry be available, it would be permissible to tip this load.
The second type of axle casing takes from an hour to an hour and a half to unload 5 tons. Actually, the difference is not so much in their shape, or liability to damage if roughly handled, as in the available space at the unloading end. At the factory where
• the axle casings, first described, are offloaded, there is plenty of room and they can be pushed off in almost any way. At the second one, there is very little room, and the casings have to be lifted off, one by one, and deposited where convenient.
Mention has been made of particular items, of which there are actually two,
designated as C and D on the list of traffics. D, in effect, is cardboard cases for the reception of C. The cases make only half a ton for a fully loaded wagon and, when they are filled with item C, the load is -only 1i tons. As the charge for the whole of the work is on a flat-rate basis per ton, it will be appreciated that, without some special arrangement, these items—C and D—might considerably and detrimentally affect the week's earnings.
When Mr. Meeks first commenced this work, he considered that his best plan was to put all his vehicles on to emptying railway wagons, so as to clear them as quickly as possible. He soon found, however, that he got urgent calls, towards the end of the day, to fetch loais of item C from the factory and, as the lorries were probably all otherwise engaged at the time, dislocation, or failure to meet the manufacturers' needs, was apt to be the result.
He now arranges for one vehicle to concentrate on Item C, day after day, without interference so long, of course, as loads be available. By so doing, and by putting an extra man on the vehicle to help load and unload, he has found it possible, even with this particularly lightweight traffic, -to move 12 or 13 tons per day. s The usual fleet comprises seven vehicles, increased on
occasion, as the need arises, by sub-contracting. For economical operation it is necessary to clear not less than 100 tons per day with these seven vehicles, the lightweight items, C and D, being included in this figure. Mr. Meeks tells me that the record day's work, using light vehicles, was the transport of 154 tons.
All the vehicles employed are of the long-wheelbase type, with either platform or drop-sided bodies. So far as the make of vehicle is concerned Mr. Meeks prefers the Bedford, and considers it excellent for this type of work. He keeps spare units, such as engines, gearboxes, axles and so on, and a fair quantity of ordinary stores, spare parts, etc„ so that delay on account of overhauls or for other reasons is reduced to an absolute minimum. Mechanical troubles, he tells me, are comparatively few. Bodywork and repairs thereto give him the most trouble.
Up to the time of writing he has not met any difficulty due to the use of MT80 petrol. When he has thoroughly overhauled an engine, which is done in his 'own workshops, he expects it to run for 18 months before any further attention is necessary and, usually, he achieves this object. In the case of one particular engine it has been running for two years since its last overhaul, and it does not appear, even yet, to need any intention He confirms what every operator tells me, that a good deal depends upon the driver. One trouble it seems impossible to get over is that the driver will pay no heed to the ammeter and never seems to think it necessary to check whether or not it is showing " charge." As there is a good deal of stopping and starting on this work, and drivers do like to use the starter in preference to the starting handle, it is only to be expected—and it often happens—that the .batteries become discharged and are not available for use just when they are wanted.
Petrol consumption, he finds is good, considering the type a work on which the vehicles are engaged, whilst he says that his troubles with tyres are virtually negligible. No statistics are kept, but he adds that it is usual for a set of tyres to last three years. There is one set at present in use which has been on a vehicle for no less a period than four years.
He is a great believer in the use of the Fram by-pass filter as one means for avoiding engine trouble and keeping bearings in good condition. Besides a driver for each lorry, and an extra man on the one which is used for conveying items C and D, Mr. Meeks employs eight labourers and a. yard foreman.
The railway company supplements his efforts by the provision of a mobile crane which is shown in an accompanying illustration ; the driver of the crane is an employee of the railway company, but the man on the slings, as he is called, is Mr. Meeks's employee. Now that the work has settled down, Mr. Meeks is of opinion that he has done a wise thing in thus collaborating to this extent with the local goods-yard people, and he appears to be on good terms with the local goods agent.
Whilst it would be going too far to say that the future of road transport is dependent upon a closer relationship between road and rail, there is no doubt that the road that lies ahead will be made much smoother if a better understanding be engendered between the two. S.T.R.