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Tuesday, 18 Aug 2009

Queenslands narrow Gregory Highway challenges caravans, motorhomes and RVs to work with big rig truck drivers

142-tonnes of laden Road Train Mining Truck
142-tonnes of laden Road
Train Mining Truck


Hoping to help Phil Jones sent these words and pictures to GoSee

There has been much written recently regarding the state of some of Queensland's outback roads. As I was in the vicinity of Charters Towers, I decided to drive some of the Gregory Hwy north of there (it goes from Charters Towers to the Undara Lava Tubes area) and it took three days to cover the road between The Lynd and Charters Towers.

I spent a delightful night with two other campers on the banks of the Burdekin River, and the second night I was one of several-dozens at the Francis Creek rest area.

I was looking at the road in several ways; the road itself, its width, surface quality, the bends and bridges, the cinch points where UHF radio is required for truckies and large vehicles amongst other things.

On a number of occasions I stopped and watched the traffic movement; other times I stopped and talked to road repair crews, and twice I stopped and filmed vehicles as they were navigating their way along the road.

By and large, the road strikes me as pretty typical of a dozen or so such roads, mainly in Queensland, but also found elsewhere across the Top End.

It is a road created back in the 1960s with a single-width 3.6m wide (12 feet in the old money) bitumen surface, a surface that has  been patched and reworked many times over the years.
Motorhome and shopping cart struggle up hill Gregory Hwy
Motorhome and shopping cart struggle up hill Gregory Hwy


Much of the road has edge-repair strips along it, and there is just as much broken edging elsewhere waiting to be done.

There are a dozen or so dual-lane portions of road, each one being about 3-5km long supposedly to permit overtaking to occur. 

However, as these dual lane bits are many, many kilometers apart, any overtaking that occurs does so with the front vehicle pulling off the road to permit the second to continue.

Large signs at each end of the road proclaim "Road Train Route, use UHF-40" and "large vehicle call points ahead - use UHF ch-40".

There are about 20 UHF radio "call points" where the road narrows or crosses a river or is hidden by a sweeping bend. Call point "1" is at Frances Creek, some 40km north of Charters Towers and they are numbered sequentially northwards from there. 

The truckies will cry "northbound road train at call point 4" or some such message, and any southbound vehicle will respond and alert the other to their location. 

It happened to me more than once, and one truckie actually told me he would slow down to allow me to clear the bottleneck before him. There wasn't much in it ~ I had cleared the bridge by about 100 metres, so it was touch and go with him still doing a decent road speed.

This particular truckie was one of the many mining ore trucks plying their daily route from the mine at Mount Magnet (way up north) to Townsville (way down south). I asked his total weight ~ his reply was very specific "one hundred and forty three point two tonnes". I didn't ask where the point-2 came from ... it just struck me as bloody huge and he would have no way of stopping easily if he had to.
Flinders Hwy Queensland. Aggressive might is right driving
Flinders Hwy Queensland. Aggressive might is right driving


One of the UHF call points I stopped at was call point "7", the crest of a long hill. I parked in a farmer's driveway and wearing a workman's ri-res bright-orange vest I had both the camera and a hand-held UHF radio with me.

I alerted drivers to a "photographer on the road ahead" and for 90 minutes I filmed while standing outside the white edge-posts to make sure there was no danger to me. The images I got are available ~ how Garth is going to load them, I don't know.

Another location I stopped at was call point "4", again wearing the ri-res orange vest and again I was located well off the road and I filmed vehicles coming out of the Basalt River crossing and travelling northwards down a long hill, down a sharp drop at the bottom and up another hill on the other side. At this location, I spent about 2 hours filming the passing parade.

The thing that got to me here, perhaps I was more aware of it than the day before, was the lack of UHF advisories from travellers.

The truckies large and small would advise their presence, the 4wd's from the mines and surrounding farms would advise their presence, but of 2-dozen caravans and motorhomes passing through call point "4" only one advised their location.

Does this mean that 95 per cent of caravanners don't consider UHF to be a necessary safety device? 

Does it mean they had one and were listening but were too shy to use it? 

Or does it mean that caravanners do not consider themselves to be a "large vehicle"? 

I know that I would not like to blindly meet a 140-tonne truck barrelling towards me, perhaps coming over a narrow river crossing where I have no-where to go to escape.
Tight fit passing on the Gregory Hwy Queensland
Tight fit passing on the Gregory Hwy Queensland


Watching two sets of vehicles pass each other, with each half-on and half-off the bitumen with dust flying high in the air and reducing visibility for those behind was, at times, quite scary. 

Most travellers I met slowed down to about 40kmh or pulled off and stopped completely (as I did on many occasions for cars, campers, caravanners and most of the trucks). 

Several 4wd's, often the clean, spunky suburban 4wd-types just swung off the bitumen and didn't appear to slow down at all. 

More than once I heard other drivers on their UHF calling abuse to those inconsiderate drivers ~ whether they ever heard the abuse is doubtful though.

I have in the past met drivers whose attitude has been "I pay my rates so half the road is mine" and for anyone with this mindset, travelling on such a road is tantamount to suicide. This road is one of many around Oz where "the really big ones go first, everybody else pulls to the side".

So ... have I come to any conclusions? The road itself is very busy, the passing parade is pretty constant but the road safely handles many hundreds of vehicles every day.

It has an element of danger always present ~ the sideways exiting of smaller vehicles for larger vehicles coming towards them always poses a potential hazard, and should anyone be momentarily inattentive, or the rear wheels of a long road train wobble an extra 1/2-metre sideways, then a disaster could easily occur.

I would say to other travellers, "like all roads, take it carefully, take it slowly, and do it safely ... but please go and get a UHF radio for safety and communications too." If you don't want to get a built-in, I suggest you get a 2-watt hand-held for about $150, or a pair of 1/2-watt ones (his & hers) for maybe $90. They might not be very powerful, but for 1-3km of radio distance, they will probably be okay.

Regards and safe travelling

Phil 

www.philjones.com.au

The images with this Information Article from recent travels are -

1- a series of pix of a truck overtaking us.

The road was the Flinders Hwy from Charters Towers to Townsville, between Mingela and Reid River. 

From radio chat with the vehicles in the Tag Along Tour group who were behind us, we were aware that these two trucks were pushing their way forward through the group. 

We were spread out over about 3km, ie: plenty of space between us to permit safe overtaking. But others behind me had expressed their concern as to the agressiveness of these two trucks' behaviour.
Road train rear up close and personal Flinders Hwy near Reid River
Road train rear up close and personal Flinders Hwy near Reid River


I had just finished a series of pix of traffic coming towards us, when Alayne yelled "he's coming around us now" and all I could see was the double lines extending away in front of us.

I started the camera again - after perhaps a 20 seconds delay from the end of the previous set of images and saw the truck start to appear in the camera viewfinder, and continued taking pictures until the max of 40 images was reached. By then anyway, the truck was back again on the LHS of the highway.

2- These images are from Gregory Hwy (Gregory Development Road) UHF call point "7" and show some of the to-ing and fro-ing of traffic
Road casualty
Road casualty


3- this road casualty was not there when I passed this spot the afternoon before, so it was a night-time hit-job.

I hope that all of the above is helpful to whatever and whomever.

Regards

Phil



Road train driver says help us to help you

GoSee talked to a road train driver the other night at the Halls Creek Hotel Western Australia - Chris who lives in Perth. We discussed road train and caravan people.

The best thing to do when towing and confronted by a road train is to do nothing apart from stay on your side of the road.

If on a dirt-gravel road pull over and warn other drivers behind to do the same. The roads will be narrow and you wont see for dust.

Road Trains travel at their maximum governed speed 103 kph. If you are doing 95 kph, it is too fast for them to pass (8 kph up their sleeve is not enough).
A 4wd dives off the bitumen to make way for large truck
A 4wd dives off the bitumen to make way for large truck


Ideally travel at 90 kph. Road Train drivers are professionals and know every part of the road.

They know when they can pass and when they cant pass. They need 2 kms to pass a vehicle.

Most three trailer ones carry between 70 & 120 tonne. Some GoSee and the Beanie Bunch saw between Kalgoorlie & Wiluna were 4 small trailers carrying ore.

They are special ones carrying 140 ton. Each trailer has 16 tyres with the prime mover having 4 steer wheels to enable enough road contact to turn the vehicle with the weight behind pushing. (80 wheels).

There are some with 6 front wheel steer so look out, that means heavy.

Never slow down when one is approaching from behind. Let them make the first move and pull out, then when clear, slow and allow them to pass fully.

They know what they are doing, they do not know what you are going to do. Never panic

Editors Note: Also see -

Mareeba police say caravan couple died on rural road which is not for towing newcomers

For more information
contact: Garth Morrison
Editor Go See Australia and Go See New Zealand Directory
Email: garth@contact.com.au
Dust adds to the dangers Gregory Hwy Queensland
Dust adds to the dangers Gregory Hwy Queensland
From Cairns Weekend Post July 18
From Cairns Weekend Post July 18
Road Sign Road Train route
Road Sign Road Train route
Road Train Route
Road Train Route


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