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Trucking XXL – with DB Schenker in Finland

Long winters, large distances – extra-long vehicles: in Finland, land-based transportation must overcome some major challenges. One of the ways in which DB Schenker does so is using High Capacity Trucks, both as part of the company’s own fleet and via network partners like Vähälä Logistics. Photos: Christoph Börries


On the road with Elias Salonen in wintry Finland. Weather conditions: grim. The mood in the driver’s cab: relaxed. “Of course you need to be highly concentrated driving a truck that’s over 30 meters long,” says the barely 21-year-old. He has taken up the challenge and is getting along very well with his “DUO2”: a semi-trailer truck with two 13.6-meter long semi-trailers. The entire rig is referred to as a High Capacity Truck – a vehicle combination that has been legal on Finnish roads since early 2019.

 

Elias Salonen carries parcels collected at DB Schenker’s “Terminal Of The Future” near Helsinki, and drives them about 270 kilometers north, to the city of Jyväskylä. The young trucker works for Vähälä Logistics, a partner in the DB Schenker network. The High Capacity Trucks – HCTs for short – had been trialed extensively by both Vähälä and by the logistics service provider’s national company in Finland before official approval was given.

 

“We started the trials in 2017 with two rigs, both of which also consisted of the DUO2 configuration with two semi-trailers,” says Harald Knaapinen, DB Schenker’s head of Land Transport in Finland since 2019. One of the trucks completed two line-haul round trips per day on the 180-kilometer stretch between Helsinki and Turku. The second truck was deployed on a daily round trip from Helsinki to Seinäjoki, some 350 kilometers northwest of the Finnish capital, and back. The partner Vähälä trialed four trucks and two different combinations, routes starting from Helsinki all the way to Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland’s northernmost province.

 

The test drives added up to a great many kilometers. The key insight was, however: the extra-long trucks certainly pay off! Provided they are used in a targeted manner: “Those trials proved that HCTs are effective units in traffic where you have few loading and unloading points and big volumes of light-weight goods,” Harald Knaapinen explains.

 

“By using HCTs we need 14 percent less fuel on average compared to standard trucks. This positive impact supports our strategy”

Harald Knaapinen, Head of Land Cluster Finland, DB Schenker


The biggest advantage of the extra-long semi-trailers is their economy. “We were able to demonstrate that HCTs need 14 percent less fuel on average for every load meter of freight transported compared to standard trucks,” says the head of Land Transport. “The positive environmental impact supports our strategy.”

 

Higher loads mean fewer trips. Which, in turn, means greater efficiency – a crucial factor in Finland’s transport market. This is because this country in northern Europe is almost the size of Germany, but with a population of only 5.5 million. Most inhabitants live in the southern and western parts, but goods still need to be transported to the most remote regions on a regular basis. A transport operator wanting to do business efficiently needs to be well positioned in strategic terms. It is a region where being able to cut down on the number of trips by using HCTs is a real plus.

 

Since the beginning of 2019, extra-long trucks have been allowed to operate in Finland without trucking companies requiring special permits, as they did during the trials. Today DB Schenker already relies on numerous HCTs. In addition to the two rigs using the configuration driven by Elias Salonen, there are four units that are even longer, with the semi-trailer measuring an additional 1.8 meters in length. Ten other extra-long trucks consist of a tractor unit with a 17.5-meter drawback trailer.


In a nutshell: DB Schenker’s Land Transport Network in Finland

No matter whether the mission involves full truck loads or home deliveries, national or cross-border traffic: DB Schenker Finland offers the full range of Land Transport products. The logistics service provider operates over 1,000 trucks every day on behalf of more than 10,000 customers in the industrial, consumer, retail and automotive sectors, to name but a few. Between January and September 2019, more than 380,000 consignments were delivered, with a total tonnage of over 1.8 million tons.

 

Alongside the B2B segment, B2C freight is also increasing in importance, thanks to e-commerce. DB Schenker Finland operates a network of so-called collection points to this end. Whether it is B2B or B2C: the company handles it all using 18 of its own terminals and seven terminals operated by its network partner Vähälä Logistics. In July DB Schenker will be commissioning yet another new terminal in the metropolis of Turku.


The network partner Vähälä has more than two dozen tractor units that can be operated as HCTs. There are also some extra-long trucks run by a number of subcontractors. Operated by a network partner or by DB Schenker, these road trains are deployed on numerous routes. In additional to parcels, they also transport groupage, groceries und beverages, among other types of freight.

 

For ultimate safety, all trucks longer than 28 meters must be fitted with digital camera systems. Their maximum permissible gross weight is 76 tons. “The tests have shown that this is sufficient, even though up to 92 tons were permitted during that period,” says Harald Knaapinen. Additional findings from the trials were: “There were surprisingly few discussions or critical opinions regarding HCTs in the Finnish public domain.” The feedback from the drivers has also been positive, both in relation to trips made during the summer or in the deep of winter, like the one Elias Salonen is on today.

 

Taken together, these factors persuaded the people in charge at DB Schenker in Finland to increase their reliance on extra-long trucks. “In 2020 we will be investing in five more DUO2 trailer units – and even more in 16-meter drawbar units,” says Knaapinen. Moreover, the head of Land Transport believes in a future for HCTs beyond the borders of his particular market, at least with regard to the Scandinavian neighbors and their low-traffic long-distance road networks that are similar to that of Finland. He reports that domestic trials have already been conducted there: “In cross-border intra Nordic traffic, HCTs could be an interesting option!”

More load meters, fewer trips: High Capacity Trucks make it possible to reduce the number of trips – improving efficiency and helping the environment. Photos: Janne Savon

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