The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that longer semi-trailers (LSTs) could be rolled out beyond the existing trial into general circulation as soon as next year, following the results of a consultation which suggested that a majority of respondents favoured their use.
LSTs have been on trial in Great Britain since 2012. At a maximum length of 15.65 metres, they are up to 2.05 metres longer than the current standard trailer length of 13.6 metres – enabling 30 standard pallets to be carried on a single-decker instead of the usual 26. Existing weight limits must be adhered to. More than 2,600 LSTs are currently in use as part of the ongoing trial.
DfT said that the nine-year trial into longer semi-trailers and the associated consultation had found longer freight was “safer, more economical and better for the environment”.
The department says that the trailers could remove up to one in eight freight journeys by carrying the same amount of cargo in fewer consignments, thus supporting decarbonisation strategies and reducing congestion.
Up to the end of 2019, results from the trial indicated that the average reduction in journey numbers facilitated by the trailers was 1 in 12, saving more than 54 million vehicle kilometres, 48,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 241 tonnes of nitrogen oxides (NOx).
While the trial has shown that the use of LST reduced the number of road traffic collisions as a result of fewer journeys taking place, DfT emphasised that additional mitigations would also be reviewed to ensure the safety of hauliers and other road users.
The consultation found that 57 per cent of respondents felt LSTs should be in general circulation, with positive effects for both industry and environment – as opposed to 43 per cent who felt LSTs should be removed entirely from circulation.
Those opposed were private individuals, campaigns and charities involved in promoting road safety who raised concerns for vulnerable road users, said DfT. Opposition was particularly focused on LST use in urban areas or on minor roads, with many of these responses suggesting LSTs should only be used on the strategic road network.
But DfT said various controls would be deployed to mitigate against any risk of increased casualties, including specific design requirements, operating standards and some replication of route assessment conditions as implemented in the trial.
DfT said its preferred policy option was to allow LSTs in general circulation, with additional regulatory controls to monitor continued use and compliance.
Measures required of operators are likely to include risk assessments of proposed routes, specific driver training on LSTs, driver feedback systems and compliance checks, as well as a process to ensure the effects of road closures are properly managed.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “This government is committed to fighting climate change and decarbonising our transport network, and we are working at pace to achieve net zero by 2050.
“Today’s announcement is a vital step forwards as we work to introduce more environmentally friendly freight to our roads and build back greener.”
DfT is also to launch a separate trial of lorries heavier than current permitted limits for transport to and from rail depots, following positive response to the proposal in the consultation.
The 44-tonne limit makes carriage of heavier goods to rail depots difficult, so a new 48-tonne limit is proposed for this activity. This will help reduce both emissions and congestion, though the trial would only be implemented on specific routes and with limited journey lengths.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said it welcomed the DfT’s conclusions.
RHA managing director for policy and public affairs, Rod McKenzie, said: “We have fully supported these trials since they were first proposed.
“Many of our members took part in the trials and all were very positive about the concept.
“This is something we have long campaigned for so it’s good to see the government has listened to the RHA and its members…
“We look forward to seeing these proposals progress not just in England but also in the devolved nations.”