Letters: Rail and Truck Traffic, LaHood and HOS, Trucking’s Changes, Winter Maintenance

These Letters to the Editor appear in the Nov. 16 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Rail and Truck Traffic

Your weekly articles about rail-car loadings and truck traffic tend to make the same year-over-year comparisons. Those comparisons have been negative for the past 12 months. However, they really don’t tell the story that the industrial economy started to bottom in March, even though year-over-year comparisons still were horrible. Consequently, the tone of reporting has been overly negative.

But that’s then. Now, we are entering a period of very positive year-over-year comparisons. Will “happy days” be here again in late November? No, of course not. We don’t want casual observers of the transportation industry to think that the crisis is over and everything is back to normal.

This is not a trivial matter as economists, investors and corporate planners increasingly look at transportation volumes as the best indicator of economic activity.

Let’s not err on the other side of caution in the recovery.

Drew Robertson


Atlantic Systems Inc.

New York

LaHood and HOS

Well, it didn’t take too long for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to abandon the industry regarding the hours-of-service rules.

After an unprecedented run of trucking safety, which, by the way, involved hours-of-service modifications, LaHood wants to “improve” upon safety without determining the actual reasons behind the successful skein of reductions in fatalities, injuries, crashes, etc., that occurred over the past several years.

LaHood fell completely for the “hope-change” mantra of the new administration and the political paybacks to the unions and liberal activist groups who are, and have been, driving the HOS bandwagon for years — all this with a blatant disregard for the industry that has been diligently doing its best to reduce accidents across the nation in all segments of the trucking spectrum.

All the efforts of reducing accidents and all the statistics point to successful reductions in all the key metrics, yet the new administration only wants to put its governmental stamp on all it touches, regardless of prior success.

This is what we voted for — elections do have consequences, after all — but in the short term, the industry is going to be hit with more government heavy-handedness over the next few years, and the HOS promulgation is just one of many headed our way. Taxes, fees and more governmental regulation all will lead to less profit and more costs being passed onto consumers in one form or another.

Let’s put up a good lobbying and activist effort and, we hope, put an end to the HOS football that is just a precursor to the many more “changes” we can expect.

Our industry — and industry in general in the United States — all are in peril from this political climate, which seeks to impose more government at all levels in the guise of improving what once was a bastion of free enterprise and capitalism into a mindless morass of euro-socialism.

Larry Underkoffler

Safety Director

Atlanta Bonded Warehouse/Colonial Cartage Corp.

Kennesaw, Ga.

Trucking’s Changes

This letter is regarding the editorial titled “The Tough Keep Going” (click here for editorial).

The challenges facing trucking are bigger than a “transitional moment.” It’s an industry killer for many. If you haven’t noticed, the independent truckers are gone, the green economy aims to put everything on rails and the bankrupt companies — ranging from five trucks to the size of Jevic Transportation — are gone forever. The industry has contracted permanently and people like me (seven years and no accidents and only one traffic ticket) are leaving.

Life is too short to get hurt by companies paying $350 a week after you subtract the costs to live on the road. It’s not minimum wage with those companies now, if you apply time and a half after 40 hours. No one gets paid for waiting to load or unload, and 14 to 30 days out is normal according to the mega-companies.

People in American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Teamsters union and other organizations better get on the same page. The 34-hour restart and 11-hour driving limit rule was done to increase productivity while increasing risk. It served its purpose and needs to be retired because demand has been cut into a third. Decreasing productivity by increasing safety might give smaller companies that pay benefits and more money a chance to carry on.

Danny Byers

Former Trucker

Monticello, Ky.

Winter Maintenance

Every year, the transportation industry faces new perils during the winter months and this year is no different. Weather forecasters are predicting the winter of 2009-10 will be one of the coldest — and snowiest — in the last five years.

Breaking down during inclement weather can be extremely dangerous. Additional cold-climate challenges include fuel prices that are on the rise again and idling restrictions mandated by most states and many municipalities.

Here are nine simple tips to help you to maintain your equipment and fuel tanks during cold weather:

Be sure you have treated bulk fuel tanks adequately for the temperatures you’ll be dealing with. Think in terms of the coldest geographical location the truck will run to and treat accordingly.

Block heaters aren’t designed to warm an engine but rather to maintain heat already generated in the engine. It’s crucial for the truck to be plugged in while its engine is still warm.

Remind drivers to unplug the truck before starting it. Two to three seconds of the engine running while the block heaters are plugged in is enough to burn them out.

Don’t idle the trucks. You’ll do more to cool a truck’s engine by idling it coming off the road than by shutting it off. (Engine temperature rises approximately 18 degrees when it is shut off.) Conversely, starting a cold truck and letting it idle is futile. If you need to “warm” a truck that’s been sitting, get in, drive it around the yard and “exercise” it once it has reached maximum oil pressure. That will warm the engine, transmission, differential and suspension — and could save both the driver and the organization from potential fines for idling.

Remember to drain air tanks and fuel/water separators. As ambient air temperatures fall, water’s ability to condense in fuel tanks increases and can be carried into the filter/heater unit. During periods of extreme cold, draining should be done daily. The fuel filters are the only protection the engine has against fuel contaminants. A larger-micron fuel filter should never be used to extend filter life or increase flow, as it might void the warranty — and can damage the pump and/or injectors.

When the equipment isn’t in use, be sure air hoses are hooked up to each other or, if so equipped, to the dummy gladhands. Failure to do so is a leading cause of brakes freezing up.

If moisture is present in an air-line, use one capful of brake-line antifreeze only in the emergency (red) side. Never put it in the blue side, or you could cause the brakes to lock up. Use only company-supplied brake-line antifreeze, as there are many other products available that could damage the internal brake system.

Be sure gladhands hook up tightly. If they’re too loose, they’ll come off in a tight turn and cause unnecessary cycling of the air compressor. Make sure you have a snug fit.

Finally, the best tip for proper fuel system management in cold weather is to increase drivers’ awareness — and hold them accountable for their actions or inactions.

Michael Buck


MCB Fleet Management Consulting

St. Simons, Ga.