Shaw’s Darwin Transport blazes the blue and red trail from NSW to the Northern Territory – Words by Warren Caves, images by Torque it Up
Purchasing his first cab-over Kenworth in 1981, William Shaw set the foundation stone for a successful Darwin road express freight service, firstly as a subcontractor to a major national carrier, then as his own company. Now, some 37 years later, Shaw’s Darwin Transport has grown to boast a fleet of 47 Kenworth prime movers, 126 trailers, 60 dollies and 22 Isuzu rigid trucks, employing around 150 staff.
William Shaw is still a shareholder in the business, choosing to reside in the UK these days with visits from time to time to view operations.
A decision was made in 2011 to pass the company’s control over to a board of five directors, made up of ten years+, long-standing key managers, to take over operations.
Shaw’s Darwin Transport head office and depot is in western Sydney, with additional depots in Darwin, Brisbane and Perth, with in-house workshop facilities in the Sydney, Darwin and Perth depots.
Weekly, express and general services to Darwin are operated out of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth return, with additional return services east to west between Sydney to Perth.
Shaw’s chooses not to run B-double or AB-triples, preferring to stick to their proven road train, double and triple combinations for their freight movements, utilising dog runners to get the multiple trailers to their respective assembly areas. With their Darwin depot situated on an 11-acre site comprising 7200 square metres of warehouse space, located at East Darwin, road train combinations can be run in as complete units.
Operating under mass and maintenance management schemes, Shaw’s Darwin Transport runs triple road trains up to 110 tonnes GCM, to a maximum length of 53 metres in triple form, on the 3500-4000-kilometre (one way) routes covered.
Express runs are completed by two drivers with freight arriving in Darwin in as little as 56 hours from despatch. It’s this highly efficient and time-sensitive service to local clients and the oil and gas industries that underscores the difference in operating parameters, based around the benefits of utilising Darwin as their support base.
General freight makes up the bulk of loads carried by Shaw’s Darwin Transport, with refrigerated goods filling in the rest. However, according to Jim Backhouse, the company’s fleet maintenance manager and one of the five directors, new contracts with major supermarkets and produce returning from the north, have resulted in its temperature-sensitive freight work expanding, particularly in and out of their Brisbane depot.
Jim has been mates with William Shaw for 35 years and has been working within the company for the past 18, holding the position of a director since 2011. With extensive Kenworth knowledge gained from years working at Kenworth dealers and other maintenance roles, Jim is well versed in the benefits that the company’s choice of equipment and specifications brings to the table.
“We have in our fleet, 47 Kenworth prime movers and 22 Isuzu local delivery rigids. The prime movers range from the line haul 900-series Kenworths down to our smaller local and regional 400-series models, some of these trucks have in excess of three million kilometres on the them,” explained Jim.
“Kenworths have always been utilised for our work; although, unlike our current Cummins powered units, the early days saw Shaw’s trucks powered by Detroit Diesels. We have moved with the Cummins evolution from series-one and two Signature engines through to EGR, ISXE5 and now with our most recent trucks, the X15 powerplant.
“The latest X15 generation of engine is proving itself well for us, and we adapt to the new technology as it evolves from the manufacturers”.
While adaptation of new technology is embraced by the company in some areas, other developments and options are a little slower to be implemented, with old-school functionality, reliability and durability still influencing design specifications for the company fleet. An example of this is the company’s remaining preference for not adopting airbag suspension systems, preferring the use of steel spider wheels.
“We prefer the Kenworth six-rod suspension for its durability and ability to take all kinds of punishment that our drivers may encounter on the sealed, but somewhat sad, road surfaces on which they travel. Simplicity of design, with fewer moving parts, and the ability to affect a “bush repair” should a component fail in a remote location, drives our choice of suspension system,” explained Jim.
Airbag suspension systems are starting to work their way into Shaw’s trailers, and, according to Jim, this has been mainly driven by customer requirements.
“Spider wheels are still a common sight on our trucks. However, around five or six years ago, Kenworth became unable to supply spiders as the foundry in Toowoomba wound up, affecting supply. This resulted in us starting to run on alloy disc wheels for our trucks.
“This is a slow and difficult transition for our fleet as we had our tyre and wheel replacement procedures all set around our existing stock of two-piece wheels, but, we are getting there, and as time goes by and more and more of our replacement vehicles enter the fleet with disc wheels, it should become easier to manage,” said Jim.
“Our choice of specification for our trucks has been learned by many years of operation, and trial and error. We have experimented with various power and torque ratings, final drive ratios and ancillary components, to come up with what we believe is the best and most reliable design for the work that we do.
“We use three different manufacturers for our trailing equipment, these being Haulmark, FTE and a few Barker trailers. Up until recently we used Dana axles, now preferring to use BPW,” said Jim.
Wherever possible, all maintenance is carried out in-house by Shaw’s workshops. The exception to this is in relation to warranty work or a specialised task not viable to carry out themselves, for which the vehicles go back to their original manufacturer.
Extended oil drain intervals are followed on the Kenworth trucks at 40,000 km oil drain periods.
The company’s fleet of Kenworth trucks, including all of those used for local, regional and line haul heavy-duty specifications, together with its range of Isuzu commercial vehicles, have been purchased through Gilbert & Roach Trucks Huntingwood, with whom Jim said they have built up a good relationship of trust.
Gilbert & Roach has just completed delivery of a new T909 to Shaw’s Darwin Transport’s Sydney depot, and this truck will shortly be put to work out of their Brisbane depot on refrigerated work.
Bill Anderson, Gilbert & Roach’s sales manager, and Lloyd Moran jointly processed the purchase.
“Between the two makes of Kenworth and Isuzu, Shaw’s averages a couple of new truck purchases from us each year. We have a good relationship with them and we make sure everything is tailored to their exacting requirements for their unique freight operation,” explained Bill.
Specifications for the company’s latest T909 include the Cummins X15 engine, rated at 600 hp and 1850 ft-lb torque and Eaton Road Ranger 18-speed manual transmission. Final drive ratios are 4.56:1 with the rear axle spread stretched out to 56 inches, over the commonly used 52-inch spread.
“We prefer the wider axle placement for a broader footprint and stability; also, in conjunction with the conveyor rubber guards, we find this results in greater cooling efficiency in that area,” said Jim Backhouse.
Fuel capacity is achieved through the fitment of four rectangular tanks, two 650-litre tanks on the near side, plus a 650-litre and a 420-litre on the off side, taking care of the long distances covered, and a 225-litre AdBlue tank sits between the two off-side tanks.
LED headlights and bullbar-mounted driving lights do their best to point out night hazards and minimise animal strikes.
On the subject of animal strikes, Jim explained that the choice of the T909 with the large bonnet yielded two main benefits, one being the thermal efficiency of the large frontal cooling area, and the other being increased safety and protection provided to their drivers from impacts with wildlife in general.
“Camels are a real problem because of their height. Despite the large frontal area of the truck, if a camel is struck, these animals usually punch the bonnet up into the windscreen,” said Jim.
Transporting freight to a destination some 4000 km away over a vast hot country in a timely manner for your clients, while maintaining profits for your business, takes a good deal of experience, with reliable people and the right equipment to help make that happen.
Shaw’s Darwin Transport has gained invaluable insight into the Darwin freight route over the last 37 years, and with reliable industry partners continues to service our northernmost capital.