Canadian retailer leading the push towards widespread adoption of 60-ft. containers
SAINT-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, Que. – Canadian Tire’s vision to widely deploy 60-ft. containers took a huge step forward this week, with the Canadian invention of an extendable chassis that can carry both 53- and 60-ft. containers.
Neil McKenna, head of transportation for Canadian Tire, got his first look at the new extendable chassis at Max-Atlas’s manufacturing plant here Dec. 20 and invited Truck News to accompany him. Also along for the demonstration were: Gary Fast, associate vice-president, international transportation operations and support with Canadian Tire; Gary Kunzli, account manager, CP Rail; and Jimmy Zborowsky, an Ontario-based Max-Atlas sales rep.
Jimmy Zborowsky of Max-Atlas demonstrates the extendable chassis to CP and Canadian Tire officials.
McKenna tasked Max-Atlas with developing a container chassis that could handle both sizes of containers and though the manufacturer set an internal deadline of seven months, just two months in it had two partial prototypes to demonstrate. Both models featured an extendable gooseneck. One featured a fabricated trombone and cam rollers while the other was a “tube-within-tube” design, also with cam rollers to facilitate the extension.
Both were easy to operate with one hand, a key design requirement. The operator just flips a lever and then easily extends or retracts the gooseneck to switch between 53- and 60-ft. configurations. The only additional maintenance required is greasing of the cam rollers. Tibor Varga, president of Max-Atlas, said both designs will work, but seemed to favor the tube-within-tube design, due to its lower manufacturing costs and relative simplicity – fewer rollers, and less welding is required. The tube-within-tube design adds about 200 kgs compared to a conventional 53-ft. container chassis.
Canadian Tire reps were clearly delighted with both designs.
“I was very impressed with the Max-Atlas team,” McKenna told Truck News afterwards. “I saw a prototype of a unit that was very impressive. It’s not often you get a chance to lead the world in innovation in any field, and to have a Quebec and Canadian manufacturer able to bring something like this to market is exceptional and something to be commended.”
The patent-pending extendable gooseneck chassis won’t be brought to market immediately. First, the prototypes will be finished and then delivered to CP’s Montreal yard for testing. Canadian Tire is hoping to place an order in January and begin deploying 60-ft. containers where it’s legal to do so. Not all provinces allow the 60-ft. boxes on the roads – ironically, Quebec, where they’re built, does not allow them on-road – but in provinces that regulate total combination length, such as Alberta and Ontario, the containers can be deployed right away.
In fact, Canadian Tire already has one 60-ft. prototype container in use and is about to take delivery of another four 60-ft. fixed chassis.
Neil McKenna (left) evaluates the concept with Canadian Tire colleagues.
“Our partners at CP Rail have taken this (prototype) unit to Vancouver and back with no problems on the rail network,” McKenna said.
A modified Volvo tractor is used to pull the container on the road. Fast said the wheelbase was extended to accommodate the deep set kingpin.
“We took our existing (tractor) spec’, brought it to Volvo and literally severed the wheelbase and added extra length to it to be able to accommodate the kingpin,” Fast explained.
The extendable chassis will need to be pulled by a modified tractor while in 60-ft. configuration, but any tractor will work when it’s set up for 53-ft. cans.
Canadian Tire is enjoying a 13.7% increase in payload using its first 60-ft. container, compared to traditional 53-footers.
“That’s significant,” McKenna said. “For a fleet our size, if we were to convert to a complete 60-ft. fleet – and by no means will this happen anytime soon – but if we could convert, we could take close to 1,000 containers and chassis out of our fleet and move 14% more payload with reduced greenhouse emissions as an additional benefit.”
He thinks it’s the future of intermodal transport in Canada.
“I don’t think that there’s anything stopping this,” he said. “I believe once we’ve proven and demonstrated the 14% improvement it will be too much of a competitive advantage to not want for anyone moving payload – especially light payload – to seek that added capacity.”
McKenna notes Canadian Tire pioneered the use of 53-ft. containers a quarter century ago and he fully expects other retailers to follow suit once Canadian Tire has proven the viability of 60-footers.
“I fully expect they will,” he said. “Retail is competitive and you can’t fall behind. Once we demonstrate we are moving our payload with this equipment and our carriers are on-board, I think competitors will be asking their rail and over-the-road carriers for a similar product.”
Kunzli said CP Rail has had no difficulties accommodating the prototype 60-ft. container across its network. It rides atop conventional containers on CP’s intermodal flatcars.
Canadian Tire’s Gary Fast extends the gooseneck.
McKenna has been pursuing the use of 60-ft. containers for several years now. It began as an idea to transition to 57-ft. containers, capable of accommodating two additional pallets, but he upped the ante when he saw another retailer was pulling a 60-ft. trailer on Ontario roads.
“When we understood Ontario would accept 60-ft. (trailers) on the road several years ago, we decided if that was the case, why stop at 57? We began the design process of designing a 60-ft. container and chassis,” McKenna said. “We’re excited. We are seeking to grow the fleet starting in 2017 and if all goes well, will begin a conversion to a uniform 60-ft. fleet over the next decade and a half.”