In the Australian outback, the railways are few, the roads long and the demand for delivery work plentiful. The “road train” is Australia’s solution: a tractor unit pulling two or more trailers. They barrel along the long, straight roads at 90 to 100 kph, crossing the country and leaving almost obliterated road kill in their wake. Similar vehicles ply the roads in the USA, Canada, Argentina and Mexico, but Australia knows how to make them really big.
Road trains transport many materials and goods, most commonly livestock, fuel, ore and general freight. For some isolated communities, their regular delivery work is essential. Double trailer combinations are allowed in most parts of Australia, outside of heavily populated urban regions, although Tasmania and Victoria do not allow road trains to operate on any of their roads. Triple road trains operate in parts of New South Wales and Queensland, while triples and quads (3.5 trailers) are permitted in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The basic two-trailer and triple rigs are an impressive sight, often brightly decorated with individual designs or advertisements for the company using their services, and lit up like part of an ever-travelling festival at night.
Longest operating road trains
Once you get into the outback you’ll see the triples and quads doing delivery work across the narrow highways and even unsealed roads. Go up to the Granites Gold Mine in the western Northern Territory, however, and you might see the “powertrains” - a body and six trailers running on a 100 km round trip, bearing gold ore. As their delivery work is done on private property, they’re not subject to state restrictions. These are the longest road trains operating in the world.
Road train records
Longer road trains than the above have been run for record-breaking purposes, although not for delivery work. The past two decades have seen almost a dozen efforts by Australian truckers to get their names in the record books, successively bettering one another each year. It kicked off in 1989 when a trucker called Buddo tugged a 12-trailer road train down the main street of Winton, Queensland. In 1993 Plugger beat him with 16 trailers, but only a few months later Darwin driver Malcolm Chisholm’s 290 tonne, 21-trailer rig took the record. That road train was 315 metres long, but don’t be too astounded yet. By Australia record standards, that’s pretty small.
For instance, Doug Gould has set the record on two occasions at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia: first, in 2000, with a 79-trailer road train weighing 1,072.3 tonnes and measuring 1,018.2 metres; the second time, in 2004, he had 117 trailers and the road train drove 1,500 metres down the road after a replacement was brought in for the first tractor unit, which suffered a broken driveshaft.
The current record is held by John Atkinson, then 70 years old, whose Australian-built Mack truck with 112 semi-trailers and a weight of 1,300 tonnes drove 100 metres in Clifton, Queensland, in 2006. That road train extended 1,474.3 metres. While it could never be used for delivery work, it certainly would be a sight.