‘Superload’ timber over Pennsylvania, as big as two whales

‘Superload’ timber over Pennsylvania, as big as two whales

It’s called a superload, and for good reason: the highway is longer than five fire trucks and weighs as much as two blue whales.

This week and next week, the huge tractor trailer towing a tank from a disused nuclear training site will unload across Pennsylvania on a 400-mile route that would test the abilities of even the most experienced truck driver.

The metal leviathan, which occupies two lanes, measures 213 feet from end to end and weighs 294 tons, which only puts oversized loads to shame.

As it rolls across the state on what is expected to be a nine-day voyage, the rig with several flat wagons and escort vehicles must cross 16 counties, navigating from exit ramps, country roads, two-lane highways, unusual traffic patterns and a potential snowstorm.

The truck can only drive at the specified speed limit or 30 miles per hour, whichever is lower, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Not surprisingly, drivers should expect delays if they get caught behind the superload, even though it is expected to drive mostly at night to cut down on bottlenecks, the department said.

Lew Grill, a truck driving expert and instructor in Montana with 54 years of experience on the road, said he had deep respect for any truck driver who could haul a 294-tonne load.

He said the weight limit for the average tractor trailer is 40 tons, featherweight for comparison.

“This is phenomenal,” said Mr. Grill. “If this guy does it professionally, he should get recognition. We should bow to him. There are not many drivers like this.”

Mr. Grill said the driver will have to respond to unforeseen challenges, such as cars stopped on the side of the road.

The escort drivers are “only the extra eyes and ears of the ship’s captain,” he said. Ultimately, the truck driver is responsible for ensuring that the superload reaches its destination safely, he said.

Although empty, the tank is radioactive due to its proximity to the D1G Prototype reactor, which had been used at the Kenneth A. Kesselring site in West Milton, NY, near Saratoga Springs, to train Navy sailors in the operation of propulsion systems in the Navy’s nuclear-powered fleet.

The prototype reactor was taken out of service in 1996, and the reactor’s fuel was removed in 1997, according to the Naval Nuclear Laboratory. The tank, which was part of a system used to support the prototype reactor, contains no residual fuel, according to Saralynne DelRaso, a spokeswoman for the laboratory.

She said a person who was close to the outside of the tank for an hour would be exposed to less radiation than a passenger could receive on a cross-country flight from New York to Seattle.

DelRaso said the company transporting the tank planned to have three escort vehicles and three state police vehicles accompany the truck.

As the trailer is wide, drivers are not allowed to pass on two-lane roads until the rig stops and companions allow traffic to pass, she said.

The shipment required several permits, all of which included prior notification of the operation as well as approval of the proposed route and timing, Ms. DelRaso said.

The truck left the Kesselring site on Jan. 5 and crossed into northeastern Pennsylvania Wednesday night, she said.

It was expected to reach Wampum, Pa., About 41 miles north of Pittsburgh, on January 21st. The tank will then be separated, with some of it recycled and the rest discarded.

A winter storm expected to hit the northeast over the weekend could complicate the journey. The National Weather Service has warned of dangerous road conditions, with early estimates four inches of snow or more in parts of Pennsylvania.

Perkins Specialized Transportation Contracting, a heavy transportation and superload logistics company in Becker, Minn., Which transported the tank, declined to comment on the commitment Thursday.

But the job is not the biggest the company has done.

In the summer of 2018, it towed seven engines weighing 318 tons each on a 61-mile route from a port on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, according to the company’s website. The shipment took more than a year and a half to plan and three and a half weeks to complete and required route surveys, feasibility studies and external support teams.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation urged people to track the super load on social media with the hashtag # PAsuperload22.

“It’s going to be a team effort where soldiers from at least six different stations participate at different intervals,” said Lieutenant Adam Reed, a spokesman for the state police. “Safety and security will be our top priorities and we ask for patience while ensuring that it safely reaches its destination.”

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