Don’t let it be said that my investigation into the quarry expansion is half-hearted. On Wednesday 21st May, I accepted an invitation to spend a day on the road with Brian, one of the senior drivers from the Hanson quarry fleet. The intention was to gain a better understanding of how a truck “behaves” on the road and what options a driver has to minimise noise, and to alert the driver to the concerns of the resident walkers and bike riders.
Brian took a fully laden truck and dog to a concrete batching plant at Belmont. We drove to Newcastle via Industrial Drive and Stewart Avenue, then along City Road, through Charlestown and down through Redhead to the plant. I saw firsthand how ridiculously narrow some of these major roads are. Brian pointed out some pinch-points on curves where the gutter took up some of the road width forcing wider vehicles to hug the centre line. I certainly have a lot of respect for the skill required to keep a truck within its lane. Brian was constantly on the lookout in every direction for other traffic, pedestrians and cyclists and while we all do that when driving, it is quite something else when you are carrying 32 tonnes with a trailer!
I was told that one fully laden truck is the equivalent of 20 small cars, it has 18 forward gears and while compression braking is mandatory on all trucks quite often it is not necessary to use. A truck driving down Brandy Hill Drive, for example, would rarely need to use engine braking.
Hanson will be taking delivery of a new fleet of trucks in about 4 months. These trucks will have quieter engines and they have rubber pads separating the tray and the chassis to reduce the rattling sound when they are empty. There are other design changes like rounded sides. Rubber mountings on the tail gate also add to the reduction in noise levels WE HOPE.
In conclusion; I did not spend a day on a truck for my amusement. It was a fact-finding exercise. I observed a very competent driver who drove to the rules and conditions. That is not to say that all drivers and haulage companies have the same high standards, and we have seen some of those driving on our roads. But, it became obvious that the road conditions in many areas are woeful and we all need to be reminded to drive to the conditions and that we all have a part to play in our own road safety.
Brandy Hill Drive was constructed, as with most jobs Councils do, with the funds that developers and governments are prepared to contribute. It is more obvious now that there is so much more truck and car traffic, that it is quite inadequate. Brian and other quarry employees have wondered why no pathway exists along Brandy Hill Drive and Seaham Road. They agree with residents that bus stops along Brandy Hill Drive are substandard as there are only two where buses can totally pull off the road, one being at the top of Sophia Jane Drive and one nearly opposite Elouera Close. The condition of the roads will always be a major factor in the noise that trucks make, no matter how new they are. The course grade of blue metal that Council currently uses always generates more road noise.
While trucks are part of our society and that will never change, we have to demand the infrastructure that allows us to access our area in safety and for us to retain a semblance of the peaceful environment we chose to live in.