VIDEO: Multi-Trans Ltd

By: Editor, Photography by: Dave Lorimar

If there’s something big to be moved, chances are heavy-haulage company Multi-Trans Ltd will have something to do with it.

Based in Auckland, the company is one of the main players behind many of the large shifts around the country, from boats to wind farm structures to transformers and anything in-between. The term 'in-between' now extends to tunnelling machines, in the form of Alice, the huge machine that will shortly be used to form the two 2.4-kilometre tunnels from the Auckland suburb of Owairaka to Waterview, thereby completing the long-awaited Western Ring Road route.

Identified as a road of national significance, the Waterview Connection project is the most expensive in New Zealand roading history with a budgeted cost of $1.4bn. Once Alice starts on her journey, she will make a 12-month underground trek to Waterview, before turning around and commencing a return run.

Having said that, we are probably getting a little ahead of ourselves, because before this is done the first thing to do is get the disassembled Alice from the Auckland ports to the Owairaka assembly area and this is where the talents of Multi-Trans come to the fore.

Contracted for what is touted as around 100 loads before Alice is delivered in her entirety, general manager David Butler stands a few hundred metres ahead of the first load off the wharf when photographer Dave Lorimar and I meet him at the bottom of Anzac Ave in the city, his presence raising our confidence level about choosing a good spot to take pics.

After spending time earlier in the day pondering over the 11-kilometre travel route, Lorimar and I have worked out a game plan to catch some pics of the tight turns at the bottom of the city, before heading to Mount Eden and catching the convoy coming down the reasonably steep gradient of Nugent St.

The questioning stares of pedestrians at two geeks waiting in the rain with cameras at the ready are soon answered when the load rounds the corner and comes into view. This is the fifth load greater than 100 tonne to move and is also the heaviest of all the shifts in this job. We are told it weighs in at around 260 tonnes. Unable to see exactly what it is, we are pretty sure we are looking at the tunnelling head, as is evidenced by the protruding teeth through some of the plastic covering.

Led and followed by a bevy of escort vehicles, including a standby Mercedes prime mover, there is also a large number of personnel and security staff providing walk-along security and support. The load cautiously makes a slow S-shaped weave before lining itself in readiness to travel up Anzac Ave, while our cameras do the best to obtain as many pictures as possible in the low light conditions.

At the head of the convoy are the 530 horses of the 1999 Scania, driven by Mark Raukawa. Fitted with hub reduction diffs rated to 150 tonne, this heavy-duty rig was chosen to head the convoy because the 12-speed transmission and torque converter provide good traction.

Sitting inbetween the Scania and the huge load is a 1994 CL Mack. Driven by Les Light this truck features a 525hp V8 Mack engine with a Allison six-speed automatic coupled to a four-speed Spicer auxiliary box and makes up the second half of the double-head pull of the team.

We note the pull setup is the same configuration as was used for the massive Yolla accommodation units that the company shifted in Taranaki. These units weighed in at a staggering 580 tonnes, but even at that weight it falls well shy of the 1200 tonne capacity Multi-Trans can move at any one time. Butler says they prefer this combination because the balance of hub rating and gear ratios is well matched for this type of operation.

Even the double-header setup out front requires a bit of help to keep the beast on the move though. This comes in the form of a 1991 Mack Superliner driven by Kerry Cross. This rig runs a 450 horsepower Cat engine, and its job as tail-end-charlie is to provide extra impetus on the various hill climbs and assist in retardation on the downgrades.

Having grabbed a selection of pics, we strategically relocate 2.5km along the route to Nugent St, having chosen this spot for its grade, which should test the braking system on the trailer and trucks. Just opposite Mount Eden prison, again we look dodgy standing on a dark corner with nothing in sight, so move higher up the street where there is better street lighting. It's not long before other spectators and news crews armed with all manner of devices turn up to record the event.

Our wait does not disappoint as the convoy eventually comes into view and negotiates a tight right-hander before starting its descent down Nugent St. The braking system on the trailer is put to the test and squeals in protest, but strongly holds the whole unit as it moves down the hill.

The trailer is a masterpiece in itself. Featuring 192 wheels, and built by Cometto in Italy around 1982, it has been involved in major hauls originally in the United States prior to arriving in New Zealand.

Once at the bottom of the hill, there is a brief pause while the trailer hydraulically jacks itself up to pass over a low-wide traffic island. This process takes a few minutes and is closely watched by an eagle-eyed bunch of orange vested people, and who I presume are council-appointed roading representatives. The haul crawls slowly over steel plates placed to protect one of Auckland's major water mains before being given the signal to move on.

Traffic island cleared, the convoy and its entourage quickly pick up the pace and continue their journey past Mount Eden prison, before heading off into the darkness. Amidst the seriousness of the shift currently underway, there are a couple of comments and sniggers about the ultimate tunnelling machine being so close to a prison.

In a few hours and 11 kilometres later, this night's shift will be completed and the Multi-Trans crew will head home for a well-earned break before cracking back into it again tomorrow.

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