Lead Beneficiary



road transport
road vehicles
non-standard vehicles
Wiesław GALOR


Cargo transport by vehicles longer and heavier than standard ones is associated with the intermodal competition problem in transport. The constant tendency to increase the permissible parameters of vehicles, including their weight, is still on the rise today. Road hauliers are putting pressure to permit free movement of LHV (Longer and Heavier Vehicles) and Megatrailers in Europe. Tests, consultations and numerous studies are carried out to support decision-making processes. This article contributes to this discussion by formulating authors’ conclusions.


Comparing the road transport markets in Europe and North America or North Asia one will easily notice the specifics of the former. Europe is a more densely populated continent, with dense road infrastructure, characterized by numerous restrictions resulting from technical road parameters. Even main road corridors running across the continent or linking Europe with Asia or Africa do not allow using the longest and/or heaviest trailers and road trains such as those freely operated in the United States or Russia. This is a significant limitation, as these two countries play a very important role in the trade of EU states.
Technical restrictions of European roads result from their historical background. In the past, dynamically growing transport needs of European countries were not taken into consideration. In the united European Community an increasing quantity of goods is carried by road, and with the enlargement of the Community the carried goods reach even farther destinations. Despite huge investment in road infrastructure, growing needs are not satisfied. These needs can be expressed by the following goals:
1) increase of carriage speed,
2) minimization of carriage costs,
3) increase of transport safety,
4) increase in vehicle load capacity,
5) increase in cargo volume of vehicles.
The above goals are being achieved to a large extent. Today congestion seems to be the most difficult problem to overcome, as it negatively affects the time of carriage. Another negative factor is the dynamically growing fuel price, major component of road transport costs. The only realistic solutions to these two issues are continuous improvement of road infrastructure parameters and an increase in the efficiency of truck engines.
Enhancing the road transport safety seems to gain the best achievements. Technological advancements have allowed to raise the safety of drivers and other road users, although constant growth of the number of vehicles on the roads poses increasingly bigger challenges in this respect.


Fig.. 1. Change in the maximum permissible vehicle mass in selected European countries since 1945 (tons)
Source: [1].


The aim such as the increase of truck load capacity and cargo volume is very important if road carriers are to effectively compete with rail or inland-sea transport. Each extra ton or cubic meter on the trailer means lower unit costs, and these have always favoured trains and ships. The maximum vehicle gross mass and dimensions are regulated by national legislation and the EU law. Over the past decades the maximum permissible vehicle mass in European countries has grown from 10 to 30 tons, i.e. by 150% (Fig. 1). A similar rising trend can be observed in maximum permissible length, width and height of vehicles.
The process of increasing the authorized vehicle technical parameters in the whole European Union is initiated by some countries that already permitted non-standard vehicles to move across their territories. Each EU member state has the right to do so.
It is worth analyzing the currently tested in some countries longer and heavier vehicles, road trains and trailers, in order to determine whether it is purposeful to increase the scope of their use in mainland Europe. It is essential to analyze the greatest benefits and losses associated with the enhancement of competitive position of road carriers from the viewpoint of European interests.


The states belonging to the European Community are obliged to apply Directive 96/53, establishing maximum permissible loads of road vehicles operating internationally [2]. In spite of several attempts to change this legal act it has remained in force, slightly amended, since 1996 and defines:
1) maximum authorized vehicle length:
 motor vehicle or trailer -12.00 m,
 articulated vehicle – 16.50 m,
 road train – 18.75 m;
2) maximum authorized width:
 a) all vehicles – 2.55 m,
 b) superstructure of conditioned vehicles – 2.60 m;
3) maximum authorized height – 4.00 m;
4) maximum authorized weight of vehicles:
 a) road trains or articulated vehicles – 40 t,
 b) articulated vehicles carrying 40-foot containers – 44 t.
The directive enables EU member states to authorize for the circulation in their territories vehicles intended for the carriage of goods that have parameters exceeding those given above. Such vehicles are allowed to operate either by receiving a special permit issued by competent authorities or without such permit. The latter option has to satisfy the reservation that non-standard vehicles carry out “operations that do not significantly affect international competition in the transport sector” [2]. According to the Directive, the meaning of this reservation is that authorized non-standard vehicles are necessary in certain specialized transport operations, e.g. logging and the forestry industry. Another solution is the so called modular concept, in which the authorized non-standard vehicle or vehicle combination may be replaced by a non-standard road train consisting of vehicles, semi-trailers or trailers complying with the above parameters. In other words, an EU country, authorizing for circulation vehicles longer than those indicated in the Directive, also has to permit circulation of longer road trains, consisting of standard modules (vehicles, semi-trailers or trailers). For international competition to be unrestricted, both solutions should offer the same cargo length.
Many countries took advantage of the possible exceptions created by the Directive 96/53. At present the heaviest and longest vehicles are authorized for circulation in Finland, Holland and Sweden. These countries allow the movement of vehicles that, under the modular concept, may have a length up to 25.25 m and gross weight 60 t (Table 1).

Table 1. Maximum authorized vehicle weights and dimensions in EU countries

n/s = not specified
The data do not account for increased authorized weight of vehicles carrying cargo (cotainers) in vehicle combinations and vehicles satisfying the modular concept requirements.

Bibliography [2, 3, 4]



International discussion on vehicles longer and heavier than standard ones has been continuing since 1960s, when such vehicles were first authorized for general circulation in Sweden. At discussion forums held various countries this type of vehicles are called Gigaliners, Megatrucks, Monstertrucks, Jumbotrucks, Öko-Kombis, Longer and Heavier Vehicles (LHV). EuroCombi, EMS (European Modular System) . The variety of terms can be regarded as a symptom of non-unanimity in treatment of this kind of non-standard solution in road transport.
Before the Directive 96/93 entered into force in 1996, vehicles longer than 18.75 m and heavier than 44 t had already been operated in Sweden and Finland. These countries got a chance to maintain the legal status by the introduction of modular concept into the text of the Directive. The market, however, has verified the expectations of carriers, who thought that other EU countries would also make use of the solution. It was expected that in the near future the movement of road trains (LHV) around the European Union would be possible. To date, only Holland has joined Sweden and Finland. At the beginning of 2010 about 80% of the Swiss voted in a referendum against the introduction of LHVs. Similar results were obtained in earlier referendums held France, Germany and Great Britain [5]. The governments of these countries did not permit the use of LHVs.
LHV road trains consist of standard road vehicles, truck tractor, semi-trailer 13.6 m long, trailer/semi-trailer 7.82 m long, or possibly, dollies connecting the vehicles. The principal feature of an LHV road train is that it can be easily connected and disconnected, so that at terminal and parking lots their length of 25.5 m is reduced to the standard length of 18.75 m for road trains and to 16.50 m for articulated vehicles (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2. Dimensions of vehicle combinations: standard and LHV
Source: [6]


The past few years have brought many studies, scientific works and expert opinions aimed at the assessment of LHV influence on the European transport market. The studies were commissioned by various European and national institutions, organizations and associations involved in the transport market. Organizations of rail and road carriers were particularly active in this respect. The studies were performed by various research institutes, some related with leading European research centres (Table 2).
The results of these studies are not and cannot be unequivocal. In the studies carried out for railway carriers or combined transport operators (items 2, 6, 8, 9 in Table 2) one can notice that emphasis is put on showing negative effects of authorizing LHV road trains for circulation. In the study performed for road carriers (item 5 in Table 2) advantages of LHV operation are mainly indicated. The studies ordered by European and national authorities seem to be more objective, although certain limitations remain. The conclusions that can be drawn from these studies are as follows:
1) compared to standard road trains, LHVs reduce carriage costs by at least 15%,
2) the main strength of LHVs are savings on fuel costs, drivers’ salaries and vehicles depreciation ,
3) it is hard to estimate the volume of cargo mass that will be taken over by LHVs from the rail operators, particularly in the long run and in the entire area of Europe,
4) the highest costs associated with the authorization of LHVs to circulate freely are those of infrastructure adaptation, and no study has undertaken the estimation of these costs,
5) disparities in the infrastructure development and cargo breakdown between various European countries indicate that profit and loss calculations relating to the wide introduction of LHVs should be limited to regions.
The last conclusion is confirmed by the map of projected LHV flows in Europe in 2020, found in one of the studies ordered by the European Commission. Main transport corridors to be used by LHVs run from Great Britain, through the Benelux countries and Central Europe to Italy [7].


Fig. 3. Projected LHV traffic intensity in Europe in 2020
Source: [7]


Table 2. Comparison of LVVs study results


Advantages (A) and disadvantages (D) of LHV

1. Transport &Mobility Leuven (TML), 2008
A: reduced costs of road carriage by 15-20%,
A: reduced fuel costs per t*km to 12.45%,
A: reduced CO2 emission by 3.58%,

D: decreased demand for rail transport by 3.8%,

Study is based on imperfect market models, contains forecasts till 2020,

2. Fraunhoher – Institute Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), 2009

A: reduced costs of road carriage by 20-30%,

D: road transport will take over from railways to 50% of container carriage,

D: after initial reduction, in 30 years time the emission of gases will increase,

Study is based on imperfect market models,

3. TRL Limited, 2008
A: reduced number of vehicles ,
D: reduced costs of road carriage by 18-43%,

A: reduced fuel costs by 8-28% per a cargo unit,

A: reduced risk of accidents per a cargo unit,

D: road transport will take over from railways 8-18% of freight (t*km),
D: increased negative accident consequences,
D: very high expenses for infrastructure,

Analysis for Great Britain’s market, which is different from the mainland Europe,

4. Arcadis, 2006

A: reduced general road transport costs by 1.8-3.4%,

A: decreased congestions on roads by 0.7-1.7%

Z: decreased number of accident fatalities and injured persons,

W: reduced rail carriage by 1.4-2.7%,

5. German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)

Z: reduced costs of road transport by 16%,
Z: reduced fuel costs per t*km by 15%,
Z: lower road surface wear,

Analysis refers only to the German market,

6. European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), 2007

Z: reduced costs of road carriage by 20-25%,

W: indispensible adaptation of infrastructure,

W: positive environmental effect with gross weight of LHV up to 50 t,

7. German Highway Research Institute, (BAST), 2006

Z: no negative effect on road surface by an 8-axle vehicle,

W: increased negative effects of accidents,
W: more dangerous fires in tunnels,

W: very high costs of adapting bridge structures,

W: problems with roundabouts, crossroads and parking lots.

Analysis of the influence on infrastructure and safety,

8. K+P Transport Konsultants, TIM Consult, 2006

Z: reduced road carriage costs by 20-25%,

Z: reduced CO2 emission by 1.1-7.3%,

W: decreased combined transport by up to 55%,

Analysis of the influence on combined transport in Germany,

9. German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA), 2007

Z: reduced road carriage costs by 20-25%,
W: reduced rail carriage by up to 5%,

W: energy effectiveness only when capacity use is over 77%,

W: increased noise,
W: increased consequences of accidents,

W: negative effect on parking spaces and bridges,


10. JRC Scientific and Technical Reports, 2009

Z: road congestions reduced by 1.1% (veh.*km),
Z: neutral balance of external costs,
Z: positive economic net profit,
W: decreased rail carriage by up to 1.5% (t*km),

Analysis based on the results of previous studies (incl. items 1, 3, 9 in this Table).

Bibliography [7,8,9,10,11]



One non-standard vehicle other than an LHV, presently tested in a few European countries, is an articulated vehicle known as Megatrailer or Eurotrailer . This vehicle combination consists of a standard tractor and a semi-trailer lengthened by 1.30 m. The total length of the vehicle is 17.80 m, exceeding the permissible size specified for this type of vehicle in the Directive 96/53, i.e. 16,50 m. The additional length translates into extra cargo space of about 10 m3, allowing to load four additional europallets. Like LHV road trains, Megatrailers may be authorized for circulation in the territories of particular EU states recalling the modular concept of the Directive.
In Germany Megatrailer vehicles have been tested since 2006. In 2009 Poland allowed to test 300 lengthened semi-trailers, made by Kögel and Polish-made Wielton semi-trailers. Whether these semi-trailers are useful in the Polish market or not will be assessed by the Institute of Road Transport based in Warsaw. Similar tests are conducted in the Czech Republic and Hungary12].
Information from semi-trailer makers allows to believe that Megatrailers have a chance to be used on a wider scale. Replacing standard semi-trailers by longer ones would enable to employ fewer vehicles to carry the same amount of freight. Research shows it is possible to achieve 8% reduction of road congestions by using Megatrailers [13]. Megatrailers are fully compatible with the semi-trailers used so far and satisfies relevant standards of vehicle manoeuvrability. As a Megatrailer is shorter than the maximum authorized length of a road train, i.e. 18.75 m, it does not require any extra works to adapt the road infrastructure. Research does not indicate increased fuel consumption, which thanks to the effect of scale may translate into substantial savings of costs calculated per cargo unit. One disadvantage of Megatrailers is that they cannot be carried on standard pocket wagons used in combined transport.



The two technical solutions for road transport discussed above, already implemented in certain European countries, establish an important direction of development. Longer and heavier road vehicles may be an effective weapon in the competition between road and rail transport. Since the onset of containerization, European railways have been engaged in the carriage of containers, then intermodal cargo units. Owing to strong support of the European policy, rail carriage of this type have been constantly on the rise, despite general trends of increasing involvement of road transport in the carriage of general cargo. European railways have always felt confident as the partner of port and land cargo terminals in handling intermodal shipments sent over distances longer than 500 km. Now this market segment may be threatened, having to confront LHV road trains and Megatrailers.
On the other hand, these new road transport solutions seem to be a natural trend in the situation where permissible parameters of vehicles in Europe are being gradually increased. The reasons behind this process are greater congestions and improved road infrastructure. To put it simply, an increase in the number of vehicles is statistically foreseeable in the future as well, and what LHVs and Megatrailers offer is the same carriage work by smaller number of vehicles.
We may then assume that in the long run longer and heavier vehicles cannot be neglected. For the time being it goes without saying that the present transport policy should restrict the expansion of road transport to the reasonably practical extent. Therefore, decision makers in EU countries may consider the following actions:
1) In the first place, permit operations of Megatrailers. Their basic advantage is that no extra investment in infrastructure is required.
2) Putting Megatrailers in service should be harmonized with their wider use for two-way carriage of freight in combined transport. Thanks to longer cargo length, semi-trailers will be able to carry 45-foot as well as 48-foot containers, so far not used in the European market.
3) The authorization for operating LHV road trains has to be preceded by actual calculations of real costs of infrastructure adaptation. If European countries are able to bear such costs, then in the first place LHV vehicles could carry freight between terminals and logistic centres located at the edges of large cities, without entering populated areas.
4) It is very important to maintain, even accelerate, the process of internalizing external costs. This is the most effective tool for restricting the expansion of road transport and earning funds for the development of infrastructure and for enhancing the safety of heavy road transport.



[1] Lumsden K: Truck Masses and Dimensions - Impact on Transport Efficiency, Department of Logistics and Transportation, Chalmers University of Tehchnology, Gothenburg 2004.
[2] Dyrektywa Rady 96/53/WE z dnia 25 lipca 1996r. ustanawiająca dla niektórych vehicles drogowych poruszających się na terytorium Wspólnoty maksymalne dopuszczalne wymiary w ruchu krajowym i międzynarodowym oraz maksymalne dopuszczalne obciążenia w ruchu międzynarodowym, Dziennik Urzędowy Wspólnot Europejskich L 235/59.
[3] European Modular System for road freight transport – experiences and possibilities, TFK – TransportForsK AB, Stockholm 2007.
[4] Maximum Weights of Trucks in Europe, Maximum Dimensions of Trucks in Europe, Revised 2 February 2010, www.internationaltransportforum.org [dostęp 26.02.2010].
[5] Big majority against ‘mega-truck’, www.transportenvironment.org [accessed 26.02.2010].
[6] Raczyński J: Wizja megaciężarówek - kolejowe przewozy towarowe wobec kolejnych zagrożeń, Rynek Kolejowy Nr 10/2007, s. 28-31.
[7] Christidis P., Leduc G.: Longer and Heavier Vehicles for freight transport, Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Communities, 2009.
[8] Effects of adapting the rules on weights and dimensions of heavy commercial vehicles as established within Directive 96/53/EC, TREN/G3/318/2007.

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