Kelvin Baxter: Industry champion

When a high productivity vehicle demonstration is held you can bet at least one of the combinations taking part will be provided by Kelvin Baxter Transport of Berrigan in New South Wales. The company, with an immaculate fleet, is extremely well respected in the grain and fertiliser bulk haulage sector of the road transport industry, and carrying for some of the country’s largest blue chip rural entities, is always represented.

That’s because Kelvin Baxter is keen to show governments, state and local, just how road transport efficiency through the use of high productivity vehicles benefits all Australians through reduced truck numbers, better service to export markets, lowering emissions and lessening road damage.

Few people are better qualified to demonstrate those benefits than Kelvin Baxter. His fleet is engaged in bulk haulage to and from rural areas and was formed through necessity, rather than established as a transport operation simply to cart freight.

Kelvin is a man of the land who needed trucks to carry his own produce, but he could see opportunities in transport servicing customers in the Riverina, Murray and Murrumbidgee irrigation areas.

“I am still a farmer but I have developed a significant bulk transport business servicing rural customers in the haulage of grain and fertiliser. I must say I now concentrate heavily on the transport business and my sons Glen and Noel today take care of our farming operations,” Kelvin says.

The transport business was started with two second-hand Kenworth trucks, powered by Cummins VT903 engines, and grew from there as Baxter Transport established a reputation for unequalled service across some of the toughest operating areas in the country. It was at that time Kelvin Baxter started employing drivers, those that met exacting criteria to further the business through exemplary customer service.

“We concentrated on providing a good service for customers and as the business grew we bought more trucks. All second-hand units, they served us well until the first new truck entered the fleet in 1997 and from that time on they have all been new,” he tells.

But as the transport business flourished Kelvin sought efficiency gains for his business and its customers and could see real benefits in moving to more productive vehicle combinations. He did a lot of work with local shire councils in developing routes for B-double and road train operation and from that time has become heavily involved in pushing the productivity with safety message.

While B-doubles have become a major force in trucking and now account for the lion’s share of on-road haulage, road transport operations in regional areas, particularly for the cartage of grain, can benefit from the use of high productivity vehicles able to serve regions with a high level of efficiency and increased safety. Kelvin is extremely active in all manner of activities, committed to clearly demonstrating options available and working closely with all stakeholders in order gain access to meet growing efficiency demands.

“B-triples and AB triples, along with other combinations, not only offer high productivity but they are very safe vehicles. There is a high level of safety built-in to today’s trucks and trailers and this has to be recognised when considering the use of larger vehicles on appropriate road networks. The decision has to be made on whether we have more trucks or fewer yet more efficient trucks on the road.

“Everything today is on a just in time basis, nobody keeps large stocks of anything anymore and that includes grain mills, and the number of rail lines and services into those sites has been reduced dramatically over the years. We actually unload in some mills where we drive over unused rail lines and all of the grain is transported by trucks,” Kelvin points out.

One thing he says is extremely disappointing is the lack of a good national plan for road transport and Kelvin sees this as being essential in order to maintain and promote efficiency in the freight task into the future.
“We are a big exporter of raw materials and we must continue to develop efficient ways of doing the job and keeping costs down, if they are too high we lose significantly.

“It is essential to take a broad look at the entire road network and use vehicles to promote efficient operation, for example it is entirely possible to run road trains east and when you get to the hills break them down into single trailer units or even establish bulk terminals for rail where trains can handle the run to our ports,” he says.

“South Australia saw the efficiency gains in getting road trains close to the city, increasing productivity and lowering overall transport costs. Improvements to the road network were not huge and the end result is a far better system for truck operators and customers.

“If government concern is safety, let’s look at some of the combinations available and the safety advances made. A B-triple or AB-triple for example is safer than a road train, turntable couplings eliminating trailer swing and deliver a high level of stability. Braking has seen tremendous advances and handling is now streets ahead of what it used to be as proven by HPV demonstrations held for governments and regulators.

“There is a real need for regulators to step up to the plate. Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland appreciate the need for transport efficiency, and while it might be the tyranny of distance that has influenced their thinking, they are aware of the benefits larger combinations can deliver,” he says passionately.

“Walgett and Coonamble Shires have worked with us and been very good in relation to AB-triples and B-triples and recognised the obvious benefits of their operation. The demonstrations held have worked simply because intuitive fears about bigger trucks disappear when regulators see them in action. They witness first-hand the safety features HPVs provide.

“One of the biggest problems for road transport operators is there is no incentive for them to go to safer vehicles. For example following the recent hikes in registration fees for A trailers, a B-triple becomes significantly more expensive to put into operation than a road train, yet they are far safer.

“One thing that must be made clear is that modular HPV combinations are vital to truck operators so they can utilise equipment to peak efficiency. It must be remembered that without this there are few gains to be made in every aspect of improving productivity, let alone the high cost involved,” he says.

Kelvin says when it comes to access many decisions are made purely on traffic volumes on certain classes of roads, yet this can play only a small part in decisions made in allowing larger combination use.

“A lot of rural roads may be lightly trafficked and very safe for use by large vehicles, this is recognised by most states, but not in Victoria or parts of New South Wales. In those states there are stacks of roads like that and when you look at it they are suitable for larger trucks yet governments are not taking advantage of opportunities for road transport.”

As you can tell Kelvin is extremely passionate about reaching goals for the further use of HPVs, demonstrated by his continual involvement in activities promoting their use, but it comes at a price.

Taking advantage of every opportunity, he takes trucks and trailers out of service within his own business, unselfishly donating revenue, driver wages and fuel in a commitment that will benefit the entire trucking community.
Kelvin works tirelessly for the industry and is a director of NatRoad and committed to promoting trucking as whole. He looks to the highest safety standards and was a very early adoptee of TruckSafe and is accredited in both mass and fatigue management.

“Safe operation in what is really a high risk business is what it is all about and we do our utmost to manage our business so accidents do not happen. A big part of that is having good people around me and I think we have the best in management, the workshop and our drivers,” he says proudly.

It is very easy to go out, buy trucks and equipment and go into operation but you must have the right people to be successful and to establish a reputation for excellence, and this is something Kelvin has achieved.

While rains have assisted growers and farmers in recent months, drought conditions experienced over the past few years have had an impact on not only rural producers, but the Baxter operations.

“Drought was one of the biggest problems we encountered and this led us to go into refrigerated work and long distance linehaul, far removed from our normal operations, but now with the rains we are again 100 percent grain carriers. Hopefully this year will be a great season, good all round,” he smiles.

Like most operators, tare weight is crucial to the Baxter operation and a number of initiatives are undertaken to gain as much payload as possible. For starters he does not run big fuel tanks on any of his trucks thus delivering weight savings, and he has concentrated on pulling the kilograms out in other areas.

“More aluminium in trailers has contributed to more payload and axle and suspension enhancements now see a 14 tonne tare reduced to around 12 tonne which is a significant saving. It is all about speccing gear to suit the environment you are running in,” Kelvin remarks.

Kelvin Baxter Transport remains a solid family business that is run to gain the highest productivity possible while meeting customer requirements in a safe and reliable manner.

“It has been an interesting journey and I have had incredible support from my wife Marilyn and sons Glen and Noel. There will always be something to be done to improve road transport in Australia, increasing productivity and efficiency, and we must all work towards establishing recognition for the valuable service we provide.

“I must say family businesses are the heart and soul of the trucking industry. Some big companies must be disciplined in the manner in which they treat subcontractors as many out there are doing it tough, and we can’t lose the people or sight of what is needed to do the freight task,” Kelvin comments.

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