Highway junction hits the spot

Highway junction hits the spot

Centrally situated between Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Durban, Engen’s Highway Junction is ideally positioned to achieve its core function: providing essential services to truck drivers while on the road. NADINE VON MOLTKE chats to the family who pioneered South Africa’s number one truck stop…

Highway Junction is nothing short of impressive. Situated between the N3 and the N5 in Harrismith, it is not only the biggest Engen site in South Africa but, at 170 000 m2, it is the biggest truck stop as well.

With parking capacity for 330 trucks and sleeping facilities for 100 drivers, Highway Junction provides a vital service for truckers along one of South Africa’s busiest routes. Officially opened in May 1999, the truck stop was also the first of its kind in South Africa. Prior to the facility being built, truck refuelling stations did exist; but there was nothing on the scale of Highway Junction, which is not only about being able to park and refuel trucks; it is also dedicated to overall driver wellness and helping operators run efficient transport businesses.

“Our family has been in the business of trucking since my father first joined this industry 30 years ago,” says Albertus Deysel, Highway Junction’s operations manager.

It was through operating a specialist transport company that Albertus’ father, Ben Deysel, first realised the significance of Harrismith as a natural hub for one of the country’s most important road transport routes. Truck Drivers travelling to or from Durban, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg used the small historical town as a place for resting, refuelling and eating; yet there were no facilities available in the town to adequately cater for their needs.

“It was the drivers themselves who suggested a ‘driver exchange’ facility, where the first driver could stop and rest while the second driver continued to the load’s destination,” explains Deysel. “By the time the truck returned to Harrismith the first driver would be well rested and able to drive again. My father knew it was a good idea. And so the idea of Highway Junction began to take shape.”

Engen was on board with the idea from the word go. As the largest provider of diesel in the country, the local fuel giant understood the need for a central refuelling station capable of supplying large quantities of diesel on a daily basis.

“They also agreed with us that Harrismith was the ideal place to build such a station,” continues Deysel. “We found a plot of land that was big enough for what we had in mind – with lots of room for expansion – that was also easily accessible to trucks travelling along the N3.”

And Highway Junction was born. Owned and operated by the Deysel family under an Engen franchise agreement, the truck park is ranked amongst the top five truck facilities in the world. And why, you might ask? Simple. It literally offers everything a trucker and the company he works for could want or need – all under one (substantial) roof.

health and wellness
Each day, operators entrust assets and loads worth millions of Rands to their drivers. “Drivers are at the heart of road transport. They deserve recognition and to be well looked after,” says Deysel. From a national point of view, the well-being of truck drivers is also crucial to overall road safety. At its inception, Highway Junction aimed to address this problem.

According to Arrie Alive, findings from a study by the London Sleep Institute conducted in Harrismith during 2004 revealed that, on average, 80% of long-distance drivers were suffering from severe fatigue, and that fatigue was proving to be the biggest cause of accidents involving commercial vehicles.

Sleep is a biological need. Tiredness is unstoppable, yet often drivers will attempt to “push through” their fatigue, with disastrous consequences. Tiredness impairs both physical and mental abilities. Arrive Alive states that many studies on the subject have led to irrefutable proof that fatigue leads to impairment in understanding complex situations; assessing risks and anticipating the range of consequences; dealing with surprises and unexpected events; and the ability to think laterally and innovatively.

Over and above the very real danger of a driver falling asleep behind the wheel of a vehicle weighing 56 tons, these are all pretty fundamental and important skills that drivers need while on the road. Other studies have compared the impairments caused by severe fatigue to those of being drunk, yet we would never tolerate drunken truck drivers on the road. Why then do we accept drivers not getting enough rest?

“We provide an essential service to truckers by offering them a safe, comfortable place to sleep,” says Deysel. “Drivers who are swapping with the second shift can sleep in a proper room instead of the back of a moving cab. This means a decent sleep as opposed to simply resting before taking the wheel again.

“In addition, truck drivers who park in our overnight yard and sleep in their cabs are guaranteed a safe place for themselves and their loads. They can enjoy a proper rest, instead of a fitful sleep.”

One of Highway Junction’s biggest selling points is, in fact, its security. Number plate recognition photographs are taken of all trucks entering and exiting the premises, and each truck is matched with an image of the driver taken at the same time. It would be incredibly difficult to steal or hijack a truck or load from the truck stop. In fact, according to Deysel, in 11 years there has never been an incident of either on their premises.

Another feature of which the owners of Highway Junction are proud is the facility’s modern wellness centre. “We opened our first container-based wellness centre in 1998 when the truck stop was first built,” says Deysel. “In October last year we officially opened our new centre, which is the first in South Africa with proper doctor examination rooms to conduct full driver medicals, blood pressure tests, eye testing, HIV testing, and cater for drug abuse cases and driver fatigue.” Funded by the National Bargaining Council and grants from the Swedish government, the Driver Wellness Centre aims at keeping truck drivers who use the N3 healthy or, at the very least, on the right medication.

Driver health is another issue that plagues the industry. Because drivers spend most of their time on the road, the need for physical check-ups is often overlooked. Facilities that are available and convenient for drivers are therefore of the utmost importance in combating poor driver health.

Over and above important issues such as sleep and health, Highway Junction also provides restaurants and take-away food, as well as shower ablution facilities for males and females.

Efficient operations
While it is argued (and rightly so) that healthy, well-rested drivers are an essential ingredient in any successful transport operation, Highway Junction also caters for operators in other ways.

For example, the truck stop has fully accredited workshop facilities for both Scania and Imperial Commercials. “The workshops operate about 18 hours a day, five days a week as well as on Saturday mornings, although they are always available for emergency breakdowns,” says Deysel. Full breakdown and service facilities mean trucks can be serviced while the vehicle is on a trip, instead of at a depot or while a driver sleeps; and breakdown services available en-route minimise downtime.

Further facilities offered by Engen include eFuel and Engen Diesel Club (EDC) benefits, both of which act as a deterrent to fuel theft. Engen’s innovative EDC was first launched in the 1980s and has been specifically designed to create a fuel management and control solution for fleet managers. It assists in fuel cost savings, combating fuel theft and fraud by supplying accurate and timely fleet reporting. EDC provides its clients with two individual solutions: the EDC swipe card, which facilitates cashless refuelling, and the eFuel tag, an electronic fuel dispensing system that combats fraud and offers fleet managers complete control over their vehicles. Highway Junction itself also offers cash, credit and account facilities, so operators can choose the solution that best suits them.

“It’s all about keeping trucks on the road and delivering their loads on time,” Deysel emphasises. “That’s our aim.” 

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