Hiding in plain sight

In April 2024, Tests34 MinutesBy Gavin MyersMay 25, 2024

Stock cartage, rural contracting, bulkies, tankers, linehaul and logging … we cover them all and more in New Zealand Trucking magazine. These are the obvious heroes of the highway, out in their masses, moving the economy, and looking good while they do it. But there’s much more to trucking, much more to keeping the economy going – and it’s at the other end of the market where the wheels of the unsung heroes of the highway turn – the trucks that hide in plain sight, but without which everything would turn to garbage.

What a fascinating couple of months it’s been at New Zealand Trucking magazine. In the March issue, we featured Metal Solution’s Iveco T-Way hook loader, an impressive, highly likable truck. But as is so often the case with these cover features, the truck’s raison d’etre was really fascinating, the back story to the company, the insight into the world of scrap metal – an industry we don’t feature too often on these pages.

Likewise, this month. Waste and recycling … They just don’t feature often. When the T-Way and the two Mercedes-Benz Arocs you see here came onto our radar, little did we realise they’d make such intriguing stories. The fact they’ve followed on from one another has conveniently combined two relations of the waste management industry in a neat little series.

‘QDC’, the 630, rolls down The Concourse.

We’re all aware of the movement of waste and recycling but rarely think about it. “Sanitation services in this country are beyond good. Nobody realises how it all happens, what’s behind the scenes of waste collection. You put your bin out in the morning and bring it in when you get home at night, and that’s all you see,” comments Ken Frazer, the charismatic and jovial national fleet manager of Northland Waste.

Home to 520 staff members, the company operates as Northland Waste from Cape Reinga to the Pūhoi tunnel, Econowaste from Pūhoi tunnel throughout Auckland, and Low Cost Bins from Palmerston North to Wellington. The fleet operation is managed from Econowaste’s Whenuapai offices, of which Ken is also the branch manager. As national fleet manager, he has 384 vehicles in his care, including various waste and refuse trucks, and bits of plant.

“You’ve got to really understand what ‘a rubbish truck’ is,” he says. “You’ve got your little rear loaders for smaller streets and jobs – for us, that fleet is mostly Isuzu. The next level are the trucks we all see every day, the kerbside collections, they’re Isuzus, Hinos, Ivecos, and a couple of Mercs. Next, we have hook trucks that move those big 35m3 bins, again Isuzus, Mitsis and so on. And then there are the big rigs that run between the transfer stations and the landfills – we currently have two K200s and the three Arocs, two 3258s and one 3263.”

‘PTJ’, the other 3258, turns into the WRRTS.

Yang enters Landfill Access Road in ‘PZG’.

The four ‘big rigs’ – nine-axle, 58-tonne units – operate in a set pattern. By day they run refuse from the Waitakere Refuse and Recycling Transfer Station (WRRTS) on The Concourse in Henderson to the Redvale Landfill at Dairy Flat north of Auckland. By night, the two Arocs 3258s also shuttle recycling between the company’s Silverdale Re:Sort station and Visy Recycling in Onehunga. Every so often, one will take green waste up to Ruakākā and pick up recycling from Northland Waste in Whāngārei to bring back to Visy.

So, considering most of the fleet at the lighter end of the scale consists of Japanese gear, why the Arocs for the bulk loads? That’s a story that has its origins in the dark, depressing days of Covid-19 and global supply chain issues.

“We needed the ability to move more rubbish at once – the biggest legal truck we could find that fits our requirement and does the job safely, fuel efficiently, with Euro-6 emissions, we needed that package. We looked at all the trucks in that class and the Mercs ticked pretty much all the boxes,” explains Ken.

“We’d initially ordered two 580hp Arocs with MirrorCams, as well as two K200s. The closing deal was this was all during Covid, when you couldn’t just get trucks. Availability was a big thing. The 630 arrived because we needed both Kenworths for the contract, but there were delays with the second, so we turned back to Keith Andrews. They’ve been great; Chris Barclay in Whāngārei is really good.”

Gaurav heads down the Albany Highway from Redvale.

The Econowaste Silverdale Re:Sort facility is a hive of refuse and recycling.

It’s a rubbish job, but someone has to do it

As with most things in life, timing is everything, and the Econowaste trucks run a consistent schedule to keep the levels at the transfer stations acceptable.

With the trucks parked up at the WRRTS overnight, loader driver Peter “PJ” Johnson starts the process at 4.00am, pre-loading the trucks before the drivers turn up, ready to go. The first one heads off at about 5.30am, followed by the second one about half an hour later. There’s no real rush as Redvale only opens at 6.15am and, with all the traffic heading into the city, the drivers get to experience that phenomenon so rare in major cities – running against the morning rush. You’d almost feel smug.

As mentioned, the two 3258s switch from refuse to recycling in the evenings and complete, on average, five loads a night between the two of them, finishing by about 2.30am. That shift change takes place at the WRRTS each day from about 2pm, where the trucks wait, loaded up for their final run to Redvale with the second-shift drivers, before heading to Silverdale to begin the recycling run.

The trucks shuttle daily between the Waitākere Refuse and Recycling Transfer Station and Redvale landfill.

That’s when our day begins. We meet the affable and proficient late-shift driver Yang Li and head straight for the 32 … 63.

“Change of plans; they loaded the wrong truck!” Ken says with a laugh. There’s also another ‘smoking’ spanner in the works – the day we were to ride with Yang was the same day Green Gorilla’s Onehunga depot made the news after a fire broke out. This meant we may not even get to Visy in the evening, the two depots on the same street.

Nonetheless, we climb the four steps up into the big 630’s cab, turn right onto The Concourse, join SH16 northbound, and make for Redvale. The 3263 is five months old, with just 25,800km on it, at our visit. The harshest part of the trucks’ lives, running this route in Econowaste livery, will be the fact that they exist to shift the city’s garbage. The 30-odd kilometre run between The Concourse and Landfill Access Road is barely taxing, the trucks making use of Auckland’s western and northern motorway links. Get up to speed, keep left, cruise from onramp to exit … The toughest challenge is the climb out of Wairau Valley past Albany; the 3263’s 12-speed PowerShift 3 transmission drops down to 11th, and the OM473 dips into its 3000Nm (2213lb/ft) torque reserve. We climb at a steady 63km/h at 1600rpm.

“I’m not sure if we’re light, or if it’s just because I’m not used to the extra power over the 580, but that seems quite fast,” Yang comments. “Normally, the 580 will climb that hill at 50-something. I can definitely feel the extra power, but I do think this load is lighter than normal.”

Arriving at Redvale, Yang flashes the WAIT card on his dashboard to indicate to the weighbridge operator that the load originated in Waitākere and rolls onto the scales. The weighbridge confirms our suspicions, with a GVM reading of 50,240kg and a payload of 25,920kg. “A couple of tonnes less than I normally have in the 580 … I could feel that was an easy trip.”

Arriving at the Redvale landfill, as one of the Econowaste K200s heads out.

Trucks stream into Redvale and line up continually throughout the day.

Now, landfills. It’s probably fair to assume that most of us have never been to one and I’m divided as to whether that’s good or bad. On the one hand, it’s a literal pit of despair – an endless amount of used-up, discarded remnants of our daily lives; our waste and garbage, piled up in a barren wasteland, constantly being added to by truck after truck, with a smell that hits your olfactory dead centre hanging heavy in the air … I’d wager it’s one of the most depressing places I’ve ever visited. A mirror to our modern lives hidden in the hills. Maybe, on the other hand, that’s exactly why more people should visit one.

“Landfills are depressing,” agrees Yang. “When I left my previous job at Dirtworks, I looked at a job at Redvale as a machine operator. I was offered the job, but I turned it down. I couldn’t do it. I had a think about it and didn’t sign the contract … They are good with health and safety, but still.”

Evidentially, landfills can be hazardous to modern trucks as well … While the trucks are serviced by Keith Andrews, as any other new Arocs sold by them would be, Econowaste performs additional inspections and greasing every 10,000km or five to six weeks. “These are not pretty Mercs that just run down the motorway; they literally drive through rubbish,” Ken explains. “Ever seen the springs of a mattress wrapped around a driveshaft, picked up by a truck driving through a landfill? It’s horrendous; wrapped around the pinion on the diff head, it’s almost impossible to get out. Thankfully I’ve only seen that once! And with modern-day trucks, you have all the airlines and wiring and sensors to worry about, too. That sort of damage doesn’t happen often, but we need to be on top of it and keep them clean.”

In fairness, Redvale does seem like a slickly run operation. The access roads for the trucks are good – the Arocs’ raised ride height is an advantage but barely a necessity, though Yang does engage the diff locks on the way up – the spotters on the ground keep the trucks flowing in and out smoothly, and the team of bulldozers continually shift the ‘fresh’ deposits.

With no queue to join – something of a bonus for the drivers, who can wait up to an hour and a half – Yang backs into position, jumps out to raise the Donovan Tarps mesh covers and open the doors on the Transfleet walking floor trailer, and sets it going. He watches the load being deposited in his mirrors, and keeps an eye on the SI Lodec scales. Once the movement of both slows down, he shifts the truck forward progressively until the trailer is empty. The entire process takes 10 to 15 minutes, but it’s safer than a tipping trailer in an environment with potentially uneven surfaces or prone to strong gusts of wind.

Tarps down and doors closed, Yang pulls forward to uncouple the trailer and returns to tip the truck’s load, which, as you’d expect, is a much quicker process. The trailer hooked up once more, it’s out through the two truck washes, back over the weighbridge, and open with the truck’s climate vents … (On that point, the Arocs has a particularly effective air conditioner … and cabin filtration!)

It’s a quick trip via East Coast Road to Silverdale, and arriving at the Econowaste Silverdale Re:Sort site, the evidence of the blaze at Green Gorilla is evident – the extra recycling deposits diverted to Econowaste making the pit already about twice as full as usual.

That family feeling

In the hope access to Visy will be restored, Yang positions the 3263 to load it up. Econowaste’s Silverdale depot isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘nine-axle friendly’, with an awkward angle on the drive to negotiate while reversing 90 degrees into the recycling shed. It looks hard on the gear. In fairness, when the yard was built, a contract requiring HPMV units wasn’t even on the horizon.

Yang’s job is made a little more difficult by the afternoon sun striking the 3263’s conventional mirrors. “I haven’t used normal mirrors for a while. The afternoon sun reflects, and you can’t easily judge how close you are to the wall, especially if there’s a bit of dust or dirt on them. MirrorCam is not affected by the sunshine. They also have a wider view, and they move with the trailer,” he says, straightening out to back in completely.

As we’ve witnessed in the past, however, conventional mirrors have one advantage in situations such as reversing – the ability to alter perspective by physically moving your body. This becomes clear when we later ride with Yang in the 3258 with MirrorCam, with him often looking out the window for a better idea of where he’s positioned.

With his truck in position, Yang flips open the covers and jumps aboard the Cat 930K wheel loader. Loading recycling is left to the drivers, as they’re the only ones on site after hours. Yang is a deft hand on the Cat, depositing bucket load after bucket load, and gently compressing it over the edge of the truck’s bin when it reaches full.

A full load of recycling is up to 15 tonnes lighter than a load of waste, but it’s also variable, with Auckland’s model being mixed at the transfer stations and then sorted at Visy for processing.

“The ‘fresh’ stuff up front is really loose and light; the stuff further back gets compacted. Then, if it rains, the cardboard absorbs the water and gets heavier. I just fill it up to the top – it’s never overweight. The heaviest I’ve ever been with recycling was around 45 tonne,” Yang comments.

The lesser weight is evident on the motorway back to WRRTS to wait out the fire. On the southbound side of Wairau Valley past Albany, the 3263 cruises along at 79km/h. Alas, the fire wouldn’t be under control for another day or two, meaning our visit to Visy would have to wait for another time, and Yang gets to head home early.

The following morning we’re back at the WRRTS to meet up with the 3263’s usual driver, Gaurav Bhagat, to get his thoughts on his truck. He’s already been to Redvale to get rid of yesterday’s load of recycling – an unfortunate knock-on consequence of Visy’s temporary inaccessibility.

Gaurav is cool, confident, and clearly a Mercedes man. “I love my truck,” he says. “I was in the Kenworth before this; it was too loud and less comfortable … These Mercs are comfy. I have an E350, and it’s the same sort of comfort.” The Mercedes-Benz DNA shines through …

Riding on steel leaf springs up front and eight-bag air suspension in the rear, the Arocs’ are stable and surefooted on the road, too – though, again, there’s not much to challenge the trucks in this sort of local work.

While both Yang and Gaurav leave the PowerShift 3 to do its own thing in auto, Gaurav does flick between the Power, Economy and Normal modes. “The power mode holds the gears and makes a difference when climbing; it’s noticeable,” he says. The Arocs are fitted with a three-stage Jacobs engine brake, and both Gaurav and Yang tend to only use the first two stages, agreeing the third stage is too strong in most day-to-day situations.

Back at Redvale, and today, we’re depositing at the top end of the facility. It’s a bit further on and a bit of a longer climb, but again, the Arocs isn’t fazed. While we wait, Gaurav flicks through functions in the Arocs’ Multimedia Cockpit. The 630 is fitted with the MMC Interactve system, with a 12in screen displaying driving info ahead of the driver and a 10in touchscreen on the dashboard allowing access to other vehicle functions (on the 580s both screens are 10in). We’ve covered off the MMC system in the past (see New Zealand Trucking, April 2022 and September 2022) but one convenient feature fitted to models with air suspension is the axle-weight readout, including one for the trailer. On MirrorCams, Gaurav comments indifferently: “I’ve driven the MirrorCam trucks … It’s fine. Good in the rain, you don’t have to constantly clean the mirrors!”

On the way back to The Concourse, Gaurav heads down the Albany highway towards SH18. As the Arocs encounters the descents into Albany, it enables its EcoRoll function, decoupling the transmission and rolling along freely to aid efficiency. A touch on the brake pedal immediately engages the engine to provide the requisite braking effect.

One week later …

… and we’re back with Yang in one of the 580s for the recycling run as originally planned. The unit we’re in is about nine months and 65,000km old. Once again, we’re taking the day’s final load of refuse to Redvale, giving us the opportunity to see what a difference 50hp makes. Admittedly, our payload for this trip is 2.5 tonnes lighter than we’d carried with the 3263 – according to the Redvale weighbridge again – at 23,420kg, giving us a 47,860kg GVM.

“I think we’re light again,” Yang comments as we head up the Wairau Valley climb. By the time the 3258 levels out, we’re doing 62km/h in 11th at 1500rpm. “Yip, like I said [last week], normally the 580 climbs this hill in the 50s.”

Revisiting Redvale and the Silverdale station allows us to contrast the MirrorCam system with conventional mirrors and the same driver … an advantage to the wrong truck being loaded last week. Yang points out that despite the large 15.2in monitors, it’s not easy to see the spotter’s hand signals as he backs up to offload the trailer at Redvale. “I can see his hand is up, but not which signal he’s giving. However, these aren’t affected by the sun – as we witnessed with the conventional mirrors – and I can also lower the sunblind without obscuring the view in the mirror.”

As he suggested the previous week when backing the 3263 into the pit at Silverdale, judging perspective and distance to the side of the truck with MirrorCam can be difficult. “I can change the camera view when reversing, but it doesn’t work for me here. I can’t tell how close I am to the wall. But for normal driving, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t mind either.”

In addition to the MirrorCam system, one of the key differences between the Econowaste 3258s and the 3263 is the fitment of Mercedes-Benz’s radar-guided adaptive cruise control and Active Brake Assist 5. Cruising up the motorway, Yang had set the ACC. From the passenger seat, it’s imperceptible, keeping the set distance and speed as other vehicles enter, exit and change lanes ahead of us, and as the Arocs is faced with climbs and descents. When slowing or maintaining speed downhill, the system automatically engages the engine brake, although Yang comments that an application of the foot brake is often needed as well. ACC will also allow EcoRoll to activate and fires up the engine to engage the engine brake when it detects a slower vehicle ahead.

“I like it; it’s easy to set. But I don’t usually use it during the day, only at night when there’s less traffic,” he comments. “But the collision warning system can be a little too sensitive at times.”

As expected, the sound levels in both units are similar. The 630 recorded an average 70db at cruise and 72db under load, and the 580, interestingly, was slightly louder at 72db and 74db.

Celebrating the unsung heroes

‘A rubbish truck is a rubbish truck is a rubbish truck’, you’ve probably thought at some point while reading this story. In some ways, that may be true. They don’t need to be flashy – given their operational remit, keeping them polished up and spotless would almost be a fool’s errand. They don’t need to be particularly high-powered or high-tech – though attributes such as circa 600hp and advanced safety systems are an advantage in cut-and-thrust city traffic.

But, as Ken hinted many paragraphs ago, “You’ve got to really understand what ‘a rubbish truck’ is.” And, what ‘a rubbish truck’ is, is essential. Do the basic sums: four 58-tonne truck-and- trailer units, each running four or five loads to landfill from a single transfer station, every day … and then two of them, each running two or three loads of recycling to a sorting facility, every night. A modern-day city’s waste and recycling flows like a river. And as we witnessed, one disruption to that flow causes an immediate and fast-growing backlog. Essential, too, are their drivers. It’s not a pursuit at the top of many ‘dream driving job’ lists, but it is an honourable one.

As for the trucks, both Arocs models do this niche job admirably, and both reinforce the sentiments conveyed by MC Fale Transport driver John Langlands in our September 2022 feature. Comfortable ride, good handling, strong engine, stronger engine brake, solid build quality, mildly oversensitive safety tech, and a MirrorCam system that some would take, and others would leave. It’s all there, as we’d expect from the Arocs.

Shining stars hiding in plain sight – trucks and drivers.

Special thanks

Once again, a fantastic and insightful few days spent in a segment of the industry we don’t often get to experience. Thanks to Ken Frazer and Loren Pocklington for allowing us into your world, being so enthusiastic about what we were there to do, and accommodating us amid an unexpected operational curveball.

Thanks to Yang Li and Gaurav Bhagat for having us along and sharing your thoughts on the trucks and the job you do so admirably.

Thanks also to Chris Barclay at Keith Andrews Whāngārei, and Sophie Song and the team at Keith Andrews Trucks for your continued support of our business.


Mercedes-Benz Arocs5 3258 and 3263L 8×4 ClassicSpace M-Cab

Tare:               13,860kg / 13,740kg (Load Certs)
GVM:    28,350kg (Load Certs)
GCM:   80,000kg
Wheelbase:        5150mm
Engine:    Mercedes-Benz OM473
Capacity:   15.6L
Power:   425kW (578hp) / 460kW (625hp)
Torque:   2800Nm (2065lb/ft) / 3000Nm (2213lb/ft)
Emissions:    Euro-6e
Transmission:          Mercedes-Benz G330-12 AMT (PowerShift 3)
Clutch:   Double-disc clutch
Chassis:    Steel 7.53mm x 71mm x 850mm, 760mm width, heavy-duty crossmembers
Front axle:   Offset front axles
Front-axle rating:       7500kg
Front suspension:            Steel leaf spring
Rear axle:   Hypoid rear axles with diff locks. 3.909:1
Rear-axle rating:    13,400kg
Rear suspension:    Eight-bag air suspension
Brakes:    Disc. ABS, ASR, EBS
Auxiliary braking:    Three-stage Jacobs engine brake, 480kW
Additional safety:    Driver airbag, Seat belt monitor, Rain sensor, Light sensor, Stability Control Assist, Front facing and kerb mirrors. Automatic park brake engage with door open at 0km/h, Automatic park brake engage with engine switch off
On 3258:   MirrorCam, active safety including adaptive cruise control and active brake assist 5. Electronic parking brake with hold function. Independent electronic trailer brake with trailer stability assist
On 3263L:    Electronic parking brake with hold function. Independent trailer brake
Additional productivity:                Axle-load measuring device on airbag axles
Fuel:    390L / 510L
DEF tank:   60L
Wheels:   11.75in Speedline Alloys
Tyres:    275/70 R22.5
Electrical:    24V
Cab exterior:    ClassicSpace M-Cab 2.3m wide with 170mm tunnel. Bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running light + LED tail lights. In addition on 3263L: Electro Hydraulic Cab-Tilt. Increased ground clearance, movable steps, front-end guard plate, stainless front-end bash plate
Cab interior:   Multimedia cockpit, truck navigation, digital radio. Driver’s suspension seat. Fold-up co-driver’s seat. 12V electrical socket. In addition on 3263L: leather steering wheel

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