PowerTorque profiles leading American transport operator CR England to discuss the logistics of its economies of scale. Words by Chris Mullett – Images by Cristiano Brunelli.
With 100 years of history, the CR England linehaul fleet with its head office in Salt Lake City Utah makes some of our established major Australian operators look like minnows in a small pond.
Founded in 1920 by Chester Rodney England, and today still in private hands with the fourth generation of the England family firmly at the helm of the business, CR England operates over 4200 prime movers, 6300 semi-trailers, with 1600 containers, to achieve an annual turnover of $US2 billion ($A2.95 billion). Its salaried staff number some 1200 personnel and the company employs over 6400 drivers.
As a rough breakdown of operating costs, Vice President of Equipment and Fuel Ron Hall, together with Doug Kading, Vice President of Maintenance, stated that driver wages are typically 25 percent of overall expenditure with a similar percentage covering fuel costs. Vehicle finance, maintenance and safety initiatives take up a further 5-10 percent of expenditure.
Like transport operators the world over, CR England was facing driver shortages. But with an over capacity of available trucks in this highly competitive market, there’s equal concern about maintaining acceptable rates in the face of competing firms trying to undercut established charges.
“To correct the driver shortage last year we introduced several initiatives,” said Ron.
“We benchmarked our pay against other carriers and, in response to that review, adopted the largest driver pay increase in company history, increasing driver pay (depending on driver type) up to 20 percent.
“We’ve also implemented several other initiatives to improve driver retention, like set runs that improve driver home time, shortening of the time drivers wait for a truck assignment, establishing of a recognition programme for high performing drivers, heavy focus on improving call centre responsiveness to driver contacts, and truck specification changes that moved horsepower from 400 hp to 455 hp (300 kW to 340 kW). We also increased governed speed from 62 mph to 65 mph (100 to 105 km/h),” added Ron.
In visiting the company head office in Salt Lake City, PowerTorque was able to gauge a strong perception of how this family-run business treats its employees. With a 180-bed motel on-site plus a market, a medical health centre and restaurant, it’s a major step forwards from how some Australian operators treat their own driver workforce.
While the integral sleepers fitted to the prime movers obviously provide the overnight accommodation for drivers when out on the road, these on-site accommodation facilities cover the needs of drivers when their vehicles are being serviced.
Drivers hours are monitored closely and for the average driver that relates to 11 hours driving time each day, with a maximum of 14 hours driving and on-duty time, which must include at least 15-minutes given to pre-trip inspections prior to each driving segment. There’s also a requirement for 30 minutes of rest/meal break for every eight hours on duty.
Out of the total fleet in excess of 4200 prime movers, some 1700 are involved in refrigerated transport, 200 cover short-haul regional distribution, 2100 over distribution centre to manufacturing plant shuttles and 200 run with an intermodal operation linking rail to road. A further percentage cover the transportation needs between the US and Mexico.
Drivers obviously don’t have to contend with kangaroo or wombat strikes at night, but with deer strikes almost as common in certain areas, there’s a company policy of aiming for all vehicles to be parked up between 01.00am and 04.00am to avoid fatigue-related accidents.
The company has developed associations with two major fuel suppliers which provides a choice of 700 locations for refuelling, eating and overnight parking. Drivers can also use overnight parking options at the company’s yard facilities in the 10 metropolitan markets they visit.
Employment also comes with a full health programme and the average age of drivers is 25 – 55 years. Despite these benefits and the use of new equipment, the driver turnover ratio remains at 150-160 new additions per year, to maintain the total number of 6300.
It costs around $US5000 to $US6000 ($A7400 to $A8900) for a new driver to obtain their CDL (Commercial Driver’s Licence) and to help provide a stream of new entrants into the industry CR England now operates its own driver-training division.
This is a major division within the company in its own right, with 150 trucks and 200 trailers forming the driver-training fleet. If a new recruit passes their CDL and stays with CR England for more than eight months, the cost of driver training is waived.
Freightliner has been an integral part of fleet purchase since 1984 and the intervening years have seen the purchase of over 22,000 units. Today the fleet is all about the new Cascadia with 72-inch integral sleeper and the specification takes into consideration all the advantages of the Daimler driveline, with Detroit DD15 engines, DT12 transmissions and low-rolling resistance tyres. Trailers are supplied by Utility, Great Dane and Wabash, with fridge units by Thermo King and Carrier Transicold, to a maximum length of 53 ft (16.14m).
Aerodynamic efficiency plays an important role in reducing fuel consumption and the company has now standardised on a 42-inch (1066mm) gap between the back of the cab (which features extended cab fairings), and the leading edge of the bogie-axled refrigerated trailer.
Although the DT12 Daimler automated-manual transmission is fitted universally, the option of driving the transmission manually is blanked out and maximum continuous idle time is restricted, again in the interests of fuel economy. The US truck operators are converting to using extremely tall diff ratios and the Cascadia is no exception, with the linehaul spec’ being for a 2.16:1 rear axle ratio.
Service intervals for engine oil drains with the DD15 engine are now extended out to 70,000 miles (112,000 km) with extended servicing of the DT12 AMT now out to 500,000 miles (804,000 km), along with the DPF maintenance for the exhaust after treatment.
As Doug Kading explained: “We use Mobil Delvac 10-30 semi-synthetic oil for the engine. We have tested the extension of oil drains out to 160,000 km, but then brought it back to 112,000 km for added security. Our fuel usage is around 22 million litres of diesel per month.”
With the standard ECM setting for engine management being set at 455 hp, vehicle trade-in cycles are implemented at 37 months.
Service costs for the prime mover maintenance are currently showing figures in 2018 of US 0.042 cents/km (Australian 0.062c/km), having dropped from a figure of US 0.05 cents/km (A0.074c/km) achieved in 2010.
Trailers are fitted with side skirts and the attention to detail extends as far as using perforated mud flaps (for a gain of 0.25 percent) and wheel-centre disc covers to minimise airflow impact.
Automatic tyre inflation systems cover the trailer tyre pressures, but these systems do not extend to covering the tyres on the prime mover, with the company figuring the driver is more aware of what is happening under the prime mover. Drive tyres and trailer tyres are retreaded using the BANDAG retreading process.
Rear extendible trailer tails were trialled and subsequently discontinued for reasons of recurring damage and insufficient benefit.
With single semi-trailer haulage and weights of around 36,000 kg being the common denominator of US trucking it’s easy to compare data when it comes to fuel economy and technical innovation. The data available is of course only relevant if the company in question choses to evaluate it, and here CR England has some exceptional insight.
Dating back to 2005 the average fleet vehicle consumption achieved was 2.46 km/litre. Today the figure has grown since the use of the new Cascadia to 3.41 km/litre.
Safety systems play a major part in vehicle specification and a typical trailer and prime-mover combination will include disc brakes on the front axles with drum brakes on the drive axles, adaptive-cruise control, enhanced stability control, collision avoidance, lane-departure alert, AMT driveline and road-speed governing.
Extra rear-vision mirrors are mounted on the leading edges of each front wing, supporting the vision available from the large A-pillar mounted mirrors. Forward-facing dash cams are also now fitted as standard and will eventually incorporate a driver-facing sensor (not camera) to monitor fatigue onset.
Collision-avoidance systems became available around five years ago and CR England was an early adopter, with installation dating back to 2015. Since this timeframe, the reduction in rear-end collisions has dropped fleet repair costs from USD.53 cents/km (Australian 0.78c/km) to USD.16c/km (AUD.24c/km).
Future technology ranks high on the agenda at CR England with Ron Hall, Doug Kading and the executive team actively researching emissions-free truck platforms with Tesla, Nikola, and Daimler.
“We also have two executives participating on Daimler’s Electric Vehicle Council,” said Ron Hall.
“While we find the concept interesting and will follow the evolution of this technology, it does not yet meet our needs from a range perspective,” he added.
As a final tribute to the reputation of the company, every load delivered by the CR England fleet results in one meal being donated by the company in association with a foodbank for a child in need. This initiative has resulted so far in the supply of over two million children’s meals and is indicative of the way in which it focuses on helping American families.