Keeping cool coast to coast
The CR England trucking operation was founded in 1920 by Chester Rodney England with a 1920 Ford Model T truck offering farm to market transport for farmers in the area around Plain City, Utah. Within a few weeks his fledgling business had grown enough to require a bigger truck. To call it a major operator in North America now would be an understatement.
Currently overseen by the fourth generation of England family and based in Salt Lake City, Utah, CR England advances towards its century next year, with its fleet having expanded to more than 4,700 trucks to make it one of the largest refrigerated transport companies in the world with an annual turnover of $2 billion USD.
A major change occurred in 1959 when CR England offered its 72 hour coast-to-coast freight promise at a time when there was no true national highway system. More growth was made possible due to industry deregulation in 1980 through the Motor Carrier Act which removed restrictions on trucking between some of the states.
Ron Hall is the Vice President of Equipment and Fuel and has been with the company for 29 years. Ron’s responsibilities extend to the purchase of vehicles, fuel, tyres and management systems such as telematics and the costs of these factors have a direct effect upon the profitability.
“Driver wages are typically slightly more than 25 per cent of the company’s total expenses and fuel is typically slightly less than 25 per cent,” says Ron. “Prime mover leasing, maintenance and safety costs vary between five and ten per cent each.”
The company purchased its first new Freightliner prime mover in 1985 and has purchased more than 22,000 examples of the brand since.
Many of the purchase decisions back then are just as relevant now due to the current Freightliner Cascadia’s generous internal cab space and the trucks’ overall fuel efficiency.
A strong relationship which extends far beyond being client and supplier has developed between the company and its Freightliner dealerships as well as with Freightliner’s head office in Portland, Oregon. This has delivered benefits for both.
When CR England became aware that crosswinds would have a detrimental effect on fuel economy, yet with little empirical data available from which to devise a solution, it took up the matter with the Portland office of Freightliner where a turntable was developed so full sized trucks could be tested for the effects of crosswinds using the wind tunnel at the Daimler Trucks North America head office.
CR England’s capacity to move freight is the major component of its offering to clients.
At the end of July 2019 the company fleet had 4,437 Freightliners near evenly split between day cabs and sleepers (or ‘condos’) plus 334 non-Freightliners.
As a result one brand now dominates with 93 per cent of the current total. Those trucks pull 5,300 refrigerated trailers and 1,000 dry van trailers with an additional 150 flat-bed trailers on specific applications. The ‘dedicated’ division has 2,100 truck and trailer combinations hauling freight for single clients including Walmart and Hershey Chocolates.
CR England is one of the few intermodal operators in the US and has terminals in centres such Chicago, Los Angeles and Stratton in Pennsylvania where trucks using skel trailers take containerised freight from the clients to the rail heads where they are double stacked on rail cars and run across the country via train. CR England trucks then collect at the other end and deliver to the final destination. Currently this service accounts for 250 trucks and 1,650 containers.
The ‘over the road’ division has around 54 per cent of its trucks operating with two-up drivers.
Trucks dedicated to single clients, however, operate with around 86 per cent single drivers and are chiefly designated as ‘one truck – one driver’ operations.
Trucks are traded at 500,000 miles (800,000 km) at an average age of 37 months.
Vehicle maintenance is performed by company workshops (22 per cent), Truck Stops (16 per cent), dealerships (14 per cent) and outside vendors (48 per cent). At the sprawling Salt Lake City facility Freightliner dealer technicians perform pre-delivery, pre-trade and warranty work on-site, such is the size of the CR England enterprise.
“Testing has shown that with the oils we use the engines could be stretched out to 100,000 miles (160,000 km), but the grease is only good for 70,000 miles,” says Doug Kading who has been the Vice President- Maintenance since 2014. “We currently use Mobil Delvac 10w30 and change it at 70,000 miles (112,000 km) in our own facilities but drop that to 50,000 miles (80,000 km) when using third party facilities where we don’t get to specify the oil.”
Fuel purchases are aligned with two truck stop chains, Loves and TA/Petro. These have a combined footprint of almost 700 locations and have sufficient truck parking facilities to enable driver sleep breaks. The company has its own parking yard facilities in ten metropolitan areas where drivers can park overnight.
Every truck has Bluetooth hands free capability and drivers use smartphone mobile apps to locate available parking in other locations. The drivers’ facilities at the Salt Lake City head office extend to include a full size convenience store.
The company has 1,200 ‘non-driving’ staff and more than 6,400 drivers with 200 graduates from its internal driver academies every week, making it the largest driver trainer of refrigerated trucks in North America. The training fleet itself has 150 trucks and 200 trailers making it larger than most trucking companies.
Similar to many operators in the US and Australia, CR England faces a serious driver shortage and a high rate of turnover of up to 160 per cent per year bringing it in step with the industry average.
In 2018 the company began to implement a number of initiatives with the intention of building a reputation for being the best place to work in the industry.
“We benchmarked our pay against other carriers, and in response, adopted the largest driver pay increase in company history,” says Ron.
Other factors that influenced driver retention were also addressed including set runs that improved driver home time, shortening of the time drivers wait for a truck assignment and establishing a recognition program for high performing drivers that takes into account such factors as safety, service and fuel efficiency. The driver rankings are published weekly within the company.
“There’s not much compensation attached to it but you’d be amazed how competitive our drivers become when it comes to the areas that they can control,” says Ron. “Being in the top ten per cent means a lot, but being in the bottom ten per cent means way more than a lot, so there is a lot of emphasis on that program.”
Technology and training have narrowed the range between lower performing drivers and good ones.
To gain a Commercial Driver’s Licence (CDL) it costs around $5-6,000 USD ($7,500 – $8,900 AUD). The company will recompense that amount for any new drivers who stay for more than eight months.
“To be an executive at CR England you must hold a CDL and we all do exactly what we say – get out on the road,” says Ron. During his 90th year Gene England, one of the sons of the founder Chester, was approached by one of his own sons about retiring from doing the occasional truck drive.
“He said ‘Dad, we think you ought to hang it up, and I said that my CDL is good for another year or two and I want to run it out,” says Gene.
Unfortunately the attorneys and insurers had other ideas so Gene retired from truck driving. A decade later Gene, who turned 100 on 24 October this year, still comes into the office on most days.
The United States regulations limit drivers to 11 hours of driving each day, with a maximum of 14 hours combination of driving and other on-duty activities including 15 minutes for pre-trip inspections for each drive sector, and 30 minutes of rest/meal break for every eight hours on duty.
CR England is quite aggressive in its auditing and counselling of its drivers to maintain compliance to the regulations and drivers are also encouraged to avoid driving between the hours of 1.00am and 4.00am to avoid fatigue-related incidents.
Fuel for the linehaul divisions requires five to six million US gallons (18.9 to 22.5 million litres) of diesel per month for CR England’s own trucks, with additional fuel being used by carrier partners (‘subbies’).
Consequently, fuel efficiency plays an important role in truck and trailer specifications, maintenance and driver behaviour.
The average miles per gallon metric across the fleet in 2005 was 5.78 (2.05 kilometres per litre) and due to significant efforts this has improved to 8.02 (2.84 kilometres per litre) in 2019.
Aerodynamics have played a role in improving fuel efficiency and numerous innovations have been trialled to complement the slippery shape of the Cascadia.
The gap between the truck and trailer has been shortened to 42 inches (1067mm) which is sufficient to prevent damage between the two main components and unquestionably helps with the fuel efficiency.
The trucks are programmed to minimise idling time and the automated DT12 transmissions have no manual mode and can only select the ‘crawler’ low speed for reverse gear. The Detroit Assurance collision avoidance and lane departure systems are used throughout the Freightliner fleet.
The speed limiters are set at the 65mph (104.6 km/h) when operating on the cruise control with only 63mph (101.4 km/h) available in manual mode as a way of encouraging drivers to engage the more fuel efficient cruise control. The specification of the trucks has been changed to increase power from 400hp to 455hp. Revised specifications like these have been proven to work well with the 2.16:1 final drive ratio and an average load of 42,000lbs.
Perforated mudflaps have been trilled on 100 trucks over the period of a year, with an average fuel saving of 0.25 of a per cent. Low rolling resistance tyres are employed throughout the fleet.
The company has trialled super singles which have a weight advantage but were found to be susceptible to damage from road shoulders and any fuel saving was negated by the loss of re-treading case credits so duals continue to be the standard, helped by the fitment of aerodynamic discs on the drive wheels.
As an organisation CR England is a strong supporter of a national program that assists in feeding hungry children and the aim of providing for one meal for every load has resulted in more than two million meals to date. Allowing the drivers to determine where the meals are available retains a community focus.
Always looking to the future the company has been testing some hybrid vehicles and is in ongoing discussions with Tesla, Nikola and Daimler, with two executives including Ron Hall participating on Daimler’s Electric Vehicle Council.
Twenty build slots for the Tesla Semi prime mover have been purchased but that particular project is running well behind its originally projected timetable. Ron Hall also has an interest in the development of the Nikola hydrogen cell truck.
“Within five years it will be commonplace to see electric tractors,” says Ron. “I think we are going to see a platform change particularly in day cab applications.”