SIX NEWLY hired truck drivers gather around a DOT407 cargo tank mock up at the Transport Service Company training center in Joliet, Illinois. For several, this is their first exposure to chemical hauling.

The cargo tank mock-up is a recent addition to the training center, but it has become an invaluable part of the program. Assembled by Stuart Tank Sales Corp, the training aid makes it much easier to illustrate the operation of cargo tank components during classroom instruction.

“This simulator is great for someone with little or no tank trailer experience,” says Leon Lupina, manager of driver training for the Transport Service chemical division. “All of the DOT407 components are in place. Further, because it's small and easy to walk around, the simulator makes a tank trailer seem less intimidating.

“We had a great deal of input and effort from many people to bring this project through to completion. The simulator makes it possible for us to not only tell a driver how tank components work but to show how everything functions inside and out. This is a fully working system.”

Tom Hosty, Transport Service vice-president of safety, security, and regulatory compliance, says that the tank mock-up has been a superb addition to the training program. It makes the training more visual, and gives drivers and others a chance to work with the hardware in a classroom setting.

“This unit really gives our training program more depth,” he says. “Besides benefiting our own employee training, I can see opportunities with shippers, emergency responders, and other groups.”

Training reorganization

The tank simulator arrived at the same time the Transport Service training program was undergoing a major reorganization. In an effort to get greater efficiency, carrier management decided to concentrate its training operations in two locations — Joliet for the chemicals division and Loudon, Tennessee, for the foodgrade division.

“We did a lot to expand our entire training program,” Hosty says. “We realized that we need more training and better training due to the driver shortage. The younger drivers that we need for the future will require more preparation before we send them out on the road. One reason is that the equipment is more sophisticated.”

The centralized and reorganized program was up and running in January 2003. Named to direct the chemical training, Lupina is a 17-year veteran of the tank truck industry. He already has spent five years in driver training. Danny Cox, a 20-year Transport Service veteran, is in charge of training on the foodgrade side.

One of the first things Lupina did after taking the helm of the chemical training program was point out the need for a cargo tank simulator that could be used in the classroom. Once the project was approved, Transport Service personnel contacted several tank manufacturers and repair shops.

Management at Stuart Tank Sales Corp in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, agreed to take on the project. After a lot of consultation and a couple of months of construction, the 400-lb simulator was ready to be unveiled. It made its public debut at the National Tank Truck Carriers Cargo Tank Maintenance Seminar in October 2003 in Louisville, Kentucky.

“We couldn't be more pleased with the results,” says Peter Nativo, Transport Service vice-president of maintenance. “Stuart Tank did an outstanding job on the simulator, and they really exceeded our expectations. We also got a lot of help from our component suppliers, and we appreciate their contributions.”

Simulator features

The tank simulator has many features, including a complete domelid assembly with cutaway examples of Girard's DOT407 pressure- and vacuum-relief vents. The simulator has airline connections with pressure gauge, ball valves, and water separator for demonstrations of pressure unloading.

Fully functional internal and external valve assemblies are fitted on the tank. The external valve can be taken apart during training sessions. The cutaway center of the tank is covered with a clear plastic sheet that enables drivers to see how the Betts hydraulic internal valve opens and closes.

Newly hired drivers see the simulator during the minimum of two weeks spent going through the initial classroom training program, which includes considerable hands-on instruction and practice. A new class begins every two weeks with an average of six drivers per session.

“Throughout the training, we're evaluating each driver's proficiency and confidence,” Lupina says. “The people hired by Transport Service are above average in their abilities, but tanker driving isn't for everybody. We try to determine a new hire's comfort level with tankers as soon as possible.”

Classroom subjects

Classroom sessions include basic familiarization with cargo tank systems, as well as detailed reviews of applicable federal and state rules and regulations and Transport Service policies. Considerable time is spent on the new hours-of-service rules.

“We explain that the hours-of-service changes aren't all that complicated,” Lupina says. “However, some of the changes are significant, and drivers need to be aware of the specifics.”

One major Transport Service shipper makes periodic presentations to the classes. Shipper expectations are outlined. These presentations put more reality into the training and give drivers a chance to ask questions.

Transport security is a much bigger part of the training program. “Drivers need to understand their security responsibilities, and they have to know that there are no shortcuts on security.”

Defensive driving is covered throughout the training program, and the carrier has looked at driving simulators as a way to enhance the instruction. “Much of the defensive driving focus is on accident preventability,” Lupina says. “We discuss fatigue and driving too fast for conditions. We look at vehicle stability relating to factors such as exit ramp speeds on highways.”

Safe performance

Newly hired drivers learn about the safety-based performance program at Transport Service. The program has been such a success that Dow Chemical requested its adoption by all Dow premier carriers.

The program is a process to improve the safety behavior of drivers and reduce accidents. This is accomplished by encouraging each driver to observe the performance of other drivers, noting unsafe habits and actions.

Unsafe actions are reported back to the terminal for evaluation by a work group consisting of drivers and managers. Graphs of unsafe actions are posted, and the work group meets every three months to discuss preventive measures for the most frequent unsafe actions observed.

Activities outside the classroom include a 15-mile road test that contains a good cross-section of driving conditions. “We also take our newly hired drivers to a local chemical plant to meet the plant management and observe loading operations,” Lupina says.

The initial training won't be the last time a Transport Service driver sees the classroom or the new cargo tank simulator. The carrier's 530 drivers (280 of whom are in the chemical division) must participate in retraining at least twice a year. Each training session includes written exams.

“We want to make sure that we're putting the best-trained drivers on the road with our equipment,” Hosty says.