Prime Mover Magazine

Looking forward looking back

Looking forward looking back

In an industry that is sometimes challenged by its own public image Cahill Transport retains a solid reputation. Brothers Dan and Mick Cahill are justifiably proud of their own achievements and they happen to know a bit about trucks as well.

The Cahill family can genuinely claim that it has been providing generations of service in the transport industry and today Cahill Transport is a multi-faceted enterprise with operations ranging from road trains and 34 pallet B-doubles to six pallet rigids with tail lifts.

In the early twentieth century Dan and Mick’s great-grandfather John started carrying freight with a horse and cart between Nyngan in the central west of NSW and the Nymagee copper mine located about 130 kilometres south west of the town.

John’s son – Dan and Mick’s grandfather – Joe Cahill Snr also entered the transport industry and was the general manager for Yellow Express carriers in Victoria. Cahill’s Transport, as it is commonly now known, was started by their father Joe Cahill Jnr in 1951 with a Ford semi-trailer. Mick and Dan bought out their father in 1989. To keep the dynasty going, Mick’s son Joseph, now works in the family business and at the time of writing is participating in a study tour in the USA.

Mick still has a lovingly preserved 1913 ledger written in immaculate copperplate from their grandfather’s time and looking at a random page we notice that William Angliss and Company was a customer back then. The irony is that the Cahill Transport head office, which opened in 1999, is located on William Angliss Drive in the Melbourne suburb of Laverton.

The network of Cahill-owned, and in many cases developed, warehouses in combination with the broad spectrum of transport services, gives the company the resources to provide end-to-end logistics services for large and small customer alike. The fleet also includes crane trucks, container sideloaders for wharf work, mezzanine floor drop-deck trailers and various B-double combinations. Cahill Transport continues to be innovative with the latest technologies and high productivity single trailers are also now being utilised in some specific applications to benefit clients with their improved efficiency. The Cahill truck fleet currently numbers more than 160 units and includes various makes with a significant leaning towards PACCAR’s Kenworth and DAF brands. The plan is to turn over the European trucks every five years with some Kenworths held onto for a slightly longer time if that decision can be justified.

DAF prime movers are the preference for single trailer operation and are also used in some light gross weight B-double applications. Cahill’s purchased their first DAF second-hand back in 1990 and used it to run the express service from Adelaide to Darwin alongside other prime movers such as a Ford LTL. Back then the brothers were impressed with the reliability, comfort and fuel efficiency of the European brand and took comfort with PACCAR providing the necessary back up support.

“We’ve got about 60 DAFs now,” says Dan. “The drivers like them and I still jump in and have a drive now and again. They always give me a DAF to do a changeover and I find them really comfortable. They mightn’t pull like a US style truck with its 550 horsepower but in their application, in what we use them for, they give us excellent performance and the fuel economy on single trailer work from the MX engine in the DAFs is fantastic.”

It’s a fitting situation that Cahill’s are the recipients of the first Australian produced DAF and Dan and Mick proudly participated in the handing over ceremony at the PACCAR plant in Bayswater.

Cahill Transport has always been an early adopter of truck technology and had one of the first Eaton Autoshift AMT transmissions in Australia. The technologies such as adaptive cruise control and all wheel disc brakes available in the current DAF range have been enthusiastically taken up along with onboard scales that check axle weights from the cab. Additional safety is achieved with the DAF lane departure warning system.

“In this game you’ve got to have the best,” says Mick. “It’s hard to get truck drivers so the easier we can make it to get them the better it is for us and our customers. That’s why with the DAFs we often put new trucks into new customers.”

Mick and Dan share the concerns of many larger operators in regards to the changing dynamic of the industry from a driver’s perspective and the requirement to keep abreast of amendments to regulations involving categories such as fatigue and work place safety.

“It’s unfair on them,” says Dan. “Transport is probably one of the most ever changing industries and guys who drive trucks are expected to keep up with it all and they get crucified if they can’t. I did a trip myself last year and was pulled up twice and although I thought I was squeaky clean the roadside people were able to identify a minor breach on each occasion.”
Mick believes that there is a strong need for a road transport academy for people just out of school.

“This is a fantastic industry,” Mick says. “We all love it and you can live just about anywhere in Australia and drive a good truck every day and take home a good pay. But there is a gap between when kids leave school and them entering the transport industry some years later, often as a fall back rather than a choice.”

Dan agrees. “When we were kids to be an interstate truck driver was like the top of the world and it was considered to be a great lifestyle. Now the perception is that it’s just the opposite when in fact it isn’t. We just need to better promote the industry.”

Proving that they are serious about bringing about some change Cahill Transport continues to foster the development of younger employees and often cooperates with the training division of the Victorian Transport Association.
“It’s not just truck drivers that this industry needs,” says Mick. “From driving forklifts to warehouse management there are plenty of opportunities in the logistics industry.”

Because of the number of opportunities for drivers that particular category tends to be quite transient and individual drivers may move from company to company, quite seamlessly, yet the demand for non-driving operational staff remains a definite challenge for the industry. Where once drivers would be keen to get off the road and into an office-based position, the demands of jobs such as allocators, have increased with the people in those roles required to continually appease clients, owners and drivers and all under a mantle of increasing regulation. Mick has a positive outlook on future staffing.

“We’ll continue to get good kids and train then up,” he says. “Without wanting to sound arrogant, we’re a reputable business and we’ve got a future and people see that. People want to be with a winning team. We haven’t lost many good blokes but it can be a bit of a turnstile until you get it right.”
Since the beginning of the twentieth century competition in the Australian transport industry has often been fierce. The situation was usually brought about by the low barriers for the entry of new players. Stories abound of how many of today’s multi-vehicle fleets started out with just one vehicle operated by an owner driver, as the then young Joe Cahill did back in 1951 and his grandfather John did with a horse and cart decades before.

Some transport companies have stumbled, while others, have been swallowed up by competitors and it’s a testament to the determination and abilities of the Cahill family across the generations that the enterprise continues to prosper. The completion of the Adelaide to Darwin rail link could have posed a threat to road transport yet that route has never been busier for Cahill Transport. Meanwhile the development of the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail route isn’t seen as a significant threat to the overall Cahill operation.
“The challenge for rail in the eastern states is you will always need trucks to go to and from the rail connections. In many cases by the time you do that you can be well up the road with the freight anyway,” Mick says.

The company has grown to now employ around 350 people. Third party and contract logistics services play a complementary role with the transport operations and the strategic locations of Cahill Transport’s depots around the nation contribute to the planned and organic growth of the overall business.

“We’ve got a great management team and good young kids coming through the ranks that are a lot smarter than we are,” says Mick.

“Your people are your strengths,” Dan says. “If you haven’t got good people you’re in trouble. That’s what makes or breaks a company. You can have all the best trucks in the world but if you haven’t got your core people you’re on a hiding to nothing.”

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