Heavy investments in infrastructure in Kenya has meant increased importation of heavy machinery and equipment.
Increased spend on such projects as expansion of road network, building of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) as well as geothermal, wind and solar power projects has resulted in shipping in of abnormal cargo.
It is not uncommon to spot huge boilers, for example, being moved, snaking their way to factories either in Kenya or in neighbouring countries.
The rising number of such abnormal cargo on the road prompted Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) to formulate regulations, which were enforced in mid-October 2013, to reduce damage on the road and ensure safety of other motorists. The big question is how this type of cargo is moved with no or minor damages.
Abnormal cargo, according to the Kenya National Highways Authority Regulations 2013, is one that exceeds the legal load or dimensional limits under the Road Traffic Act.
The overall length for rigid vehicle is restricted at 12.5 metres, that of articulated vehicles at 17.4 metres, while a combination of vehicles is 22 metres under the traffic law.
The allowable axle load limit on roads in the six-nation East African Community is 56 tonnes, with an additional cargo attracting an overload penalty.
KeNHA, however, issues special exemption permits to transportation and logistics firms in business of moving abnormal load on a case by case basis. Such licences attract an additional fee ranging from Sh5,000 to Sh250,000 depending on the size and weight of the cargo.
The exemption permits for oversize load are only issued after logistics firms satisfy the authorities that safety conditions for specific cargo have been met, says Auni Bhaij, the regional director for development and external affairs at Bollore Transport and Logistics.
France-owned Bollore is among about 20 firms in Kenya with logistical capacity to move abnormal cargo. The firm transported heavy and lengthy wind turbine generators from Mombasa to Lake Turkana Wind Farm between March 2016 and April last year.
“An abnormal cargo is one that goes beyond the limits in the (Traffic) Act,” Mr Bhaiji said. “You need to state the reason for transporting the oversize load, the type of the load and the route.”
Trucks that transport abnormal load have chassis, trailer, axles, tyres and trailers customised to suit the specific need of the consignment depending on its length and weight.
“Abnormal load trailers are either designed for heavy cargo and require hydraulic suspensions to spread the load for better stability (such as modular trailers) or designed for out of gauge (that is over-dimensional but not necessarily heavy) where you need to have extendable trailers,” Mr Bhaiji said. “Depending on the nature of the materials to be transported, some mechanical suspensions can be replaced by air suspension.”
Such investments cost in the upwards of $5 million (Sh515.3 million). Depending on the size, type and nature of the cargo, the trailers have to sometimes take a longer route to avoid over-passes and under-passes.
“You have to show the authorities that you will secure the cargo in a manner that will be safe during transportation. It is not only about the weight, length and width that you have to look at, but also sometimes the centre of gravity,” he added.
The drivers undergo refresher courses on quality, health, safety and environment as well as road risks, largely posed by third-party road users.
“If what you are carrying is extra-wide, the trailer will be wider to safely move the cargo and if the height is extreme, then you have a low-loader (trailer), meaning the height from ground to the trailer is small,” Meshack Kipturgo, the managing director of logistics firm Signon Group said. “If it is extremely heavy, then you use a trailer which has got so many tires so that all the weight is distributed on the axles and so you are not destroying the road, while extendable trailers are used for lengthy load.”
They are also trained in specific project trucks and trailers, including the social and environmental factors.
“It is important to have drivers who have a good road intelligence and who know the black spots so that they can adapt their driving behaviour to the context,” the Bollore official said.
Convoy rules, firefighting, first aid, special lashing requirements, fatigue management, and defensive driving are must-have strengths.
Most of the oversized cargo trucks are manned by two drivers, but sometimes the firms may be forced to hire up to four drivers depending on distance.
“Each transporter has become conscious of the safety requirements and customers are very serious and demanding when it comes to safety because of the heavy investments involved.”
The firms also invest in a security and monitoring teams who travel in an advance vehicle to warn other road users of an approaching abnormal load.
Kenha charges Sh250,000 for cargo that exceeds 50,000kg, Sh10,000 for the load weighing more than 25,000kg and Sh5,000 for a consignment of lower weight.