Progressing Performance-Based Standards

Marcus Coleman, Managing Director of engineering firm, Tiger Spider, reflects on the year that was 2021.

To kick-off the 2021 Brisbane Truck Show, Tiger Spider was presented with a product innovation award from the Heavy Vehicle Industry Association (HVIA) at National Transport Insurance’s swanky new office.

The team was thrilled to get recognition for all their hard work. We launched our Nearmap plugin at the truck show and have since integrated other high resolution map image layers for road agencies. It’s great to know that Spider Path is helping road mangers develop Performance-Based Standards (PBS) networks and make quicker road access decisions. But technology moves fast these days and we’re in the process of a redeveloping our software with a focus on improving the user experience and providing more integration with other services like the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) portal. Over the past 12 months, we’ve been engaging regularly with the NHVR digital products team and providing input into the PBS submission channel and digitalisation of approvals.

In the future we can expect to see dynamic routing of vehicles with networks automatically generated for a specific vehicle based on their size weight and performance characteristics. The Department of State Growth in Tasmania is leading the way, building a system that will hopefully be emulated across the country. Tasmania already has an automated mapping system for special purpose vehicles and is well on the way developing the same for PBS combinations that will include dynamic swept path and bridge assessments.

While the first half of 2021 was plagued with PBS processing delays, a National PBS Tier 1 Notice was released in October meaning that PBS combinations no longer require permits to operate at Tier 1 masses. It’s a positive step forward but the notice doesn’t bode well for national consistency with an absent Queensland and a very different approach to PBS networks in each state.

In May, Australian Transport Ministers accepted the NHVR proposal to move to a generic PBS tyre promising to remove a longstanding pain point. The current system had to be simplified so that operators didn’t have to deal with the complication and cost of managing PBS Approvals with specific tyres. We’re still waiting on the technical details to be released to understand what the proposed changes will mean for truck and trailer design, but suspect the change could incentivise smaller tyres to lower centre of gravity height as they do in New Zealand.

Another positive is that 700 kilometres of routes have been approved to streamline the PBS access process for A-doubles and other reference combinations in Victoria. The Department of Transport Victoria is promising more quad-axle semi-trailers, B-triple and 113.5-tonne AB-triple reference vehicles along with a notice which will reduce the need for permits and give more certainty for PBS combinations in Victoria.

Unfortunately, sustained resistance from the rail industry and bridge engineers to combinations over 26m and 68.5 tonnes has slowed the rollout of PBS networks. It has become apparent that heavy vehicle access across rail level crossings and bridges are being driven by Australian Standards AS 5100 Bridge Design and AS 7658 Level Crossings – Rail Industry Requirements.

More than ever the world is driven by technical standards developed by engineers with deep subject matter expertise in increasingly narrower disciplines. Crypto and blockchain are the new frontier and at their core are protocols which automate execution of rules to maintain order over their domain. Ethereum and other layer 1 blockchains like Polkadot, Cardano and Algorand are standards upon which new technology and innovations can be developed, like non-fungible tokens, decentralised autonomous organisations and interoperability across the metaverse.

In the future blockchain will hopefully be used to automate and decentralise the PBS approval process. Drawing on the crypto analogy, PBS can be thought of as a layer-2 protocol, built upon more fundamental regulations and standards which facilitates new heavy vehicle innovations to be developed. It’s therefore important to be engaged in the development of the standards referenced by PBS. For fundamental change, the layer-1 protocols underpinning PBS need to be reformed.

Brendan Coleman has been representing Tiger Spider on the ME53 working group reviewing how coupling D-ratings are calculated and the load factors that should apply to different vehicle types. The proliferation of PBS combinations and different drawbar and coupling types has meant that coupling ratings, which were not originally part of PBS, are now specified on all PBS design approvals. As a member of the SAE Truck and Bus Tire Committee we’ve just completed a review of SAE J2429 Free-Rolling Cornering Test for Truck and Bus Tires which until now, has been an important standard informally referenced by PBS. But the standards indirectly impacting PBS don’t stop at tyres and couplings.

The ARTC has started requiring safety officers to be posted on a level crossing before an A-double could pass based on their interpretation of AS 7658 requirements. Unbeknownst to most in in the industry, the NHVR and state road managers have been negotiating behind the scenes with the ARTC and state rail regulators to resolve level crossing issues. Similarly, on the back of an interpretation of AS 5100, the Australian Bridge Design Standards DOTV released a ‘Volumetric (liquids only)’ A-double network which permits bulk tankers up to 11 tonnes more than a tipper, curtainsider or skel with identical axle spacings.

Politicians and operators could be forgiven for not fully understanding the implications and complexity of the technical standards which will ultimately dictate PBS policy. Engaging on these matters requires a significant level subject matter expertise and is therefore a task undertaken by those dedicated to excellence in their field, who see a problem with the rules and set about the slow and often thankless process of fixing them. For PBS to flourish into the future it’s important to identify and understand the underpinning standards and ensure they are not putting unnecessary constraints on productivity and innovation.

Tiger Spider has developed award winning Software Hevi Spec for PBS design and assessment and Spider Path for swept path analysis using high resolution Nearmaps.