The way ahead

24 January 2024

You would think a safe and secure place to park for the night would be a given when transporting abnormal loads across Europe. You’d be wrong. ESTA and ESPORG, however, are looking to change things. Christian Shelton reports.

It’s late. You’ve had a long, stressful day. You’re need to eat and sleep as it’s another big day tomorrow. But your path is blocked by another vehicle and there’s nowhere else to go… Welcome to the world of the European abnormal load driver.

As if the being a specialised transport operator isn’t tough enough in Europe. On top of sorting paperwork and juggling compliance between differing national regulations you’ve got to then find somewhere safe and secure to park for the night. Forget about a café meal or a hot shower! With these kinds of challenges how is the industry meant to attract new drivers?

ESTA, the European association of the abnormal road transport and mobile crane rental industries, is looking for reform. Not just with regards to specialised transport parking, though; the association has been championing the interests of its members since 1976 and currently has around 90 members in over 25 countries.

One of its main, ongoing, goals is to facilitate the harmonisation of rules governing both abnormal transport and mobile cranes across Europe in the interests of safety and efficiency. This is because, at present, different countries have different rules and regulations leading to complicated, impractical and unnecessary bureaucracy for transport companies looking to move overweight or oversized vehicles or vehicle combinations across international borders.


In a latest move, ESTA has now teamed up with fellow European association ESPORG, the ‘European Secure Parking Organisation’, whose members include secure parking facility operators, to shine the spotlight on the need for dedicated, safe and secure specialised transport parking areas across Europe.

Although the issue goes hand-in- hand with ESTA’s regulation harmonisation quest it holds its own idiosyncrasy: in an industry so steeped in regulations whilst on the road it’s contrary that, when it comes to parking up for the night, it can be like the Wild West!

The parking problem is multifaceted… but one aspect was unexpectedly experienced by myself on a recent drive across Germany at night.

When I pulled over to use the autobahn rest facility there were commercial vehicles double parked on the poorly lit entry route to the area. Once inside the area the reason was clear: all the designated truck spots had long been taken; so much so multiple trucks were using the car parking area as well: it meant a tight squeeze, even for me in my compact Honda Civic.

For me it was merely an inconvenience; imagine, though, how the driver of an abnormal load, a large transformer on a flatbed, for example, or perhaps 90-metre-long wind turbine blades, would feel at the end of a long day. It must be stressful enough carrying such difficult and valuable loads without then being unable to park somewhere safe and secure when required.


And why does the driver have to park in the first place? In short, they have to.

In addition to all the rules and regulations surrounding moving oversize or overweight loads, specialised transport drivers also have to comply with the same rules as commercial drivers. So if they have been on the road for the allotted number of hours, then it’s time to stop. Simple as that.

“Abnormal transports are required to drive with a transport permit - this means they have a prescribed route they must follow,” explains Ton Klijn, ESTA director.

“They are not free to choose the place they wish to park or where they want to go at night. These transports are often subjected to restricted driving times; this means there are certain time slots when they are not allowed to be on the road. However, despite all the restrictions and permits abnormal transport drivers are also subject to the normal rules for driving and rest times. This means that as a transport company you must combine the driving time restrictions from their permits with a compulsory driving and rest time rules for commercial traffic.”

This can lead to complicated planning issues for transport companies, even more so since driving time restrictions are determined on a national level and not aligned.

So the driver needs to stop and they can’t deviate from the preplanned route. The problem now, though, is finding a parking place that isn’t already full. And if do you happen to find such a place, can you even access it?!


Sometimes, according to ESTA, there may be space available but the entry route to the parking area is blocked. This isn’t just due to double-parked commercial vehicles; ESTA members report that, in addition, they are facing width and heigh restrictions, plus poor access design itself negating access. The double parking problem, in particular, is compounded by the fact that many specialised transport vehicles arrive in the early hours, long after regular commercial vehicles have parked up.

ESTA members are also finding that when they do find parking places, the amount of room available for passing is just enough for a standard truck – not a specialised vehicle or load – again hindering access.


So what’s the fix? From ESTA’s perspective the solution is straightforward. “Design a heavy transport lane in the longitudinal direction along the parking spaces avoiding bends and gates with a proper access route that doesn't have all kinds of 90° curves,” says Klijn.

“And the other key thing to ensure is that the designated parking place can be used by those who reserve the spot and so are not occupied by spill-over trucks from the normal parking that simply find it a convenient place to park.”

It would seem a simple enough task for parking planners and parking facility operators to modify existing parking areas to accommodate larger vehicles and abnormal loads and to create a booking system so specialised transport drivers can be assured of a safe place to park. Particularly when the end users are willing to pay. Specialised transport companies say they are more than willing to pay fairly for a workable system that delivers safe and secure parking.

The task is made even simpler in that only specific roads are used for specialised transports so there's no need no need to plan parking facilities for abnormal transports along roads where these transports are not allowed anyway. “This is an a big ‘open door’ I think,” says Klijn. “Simply align the planning of abnormal transport parking with permitted routes.”


Aside from the dangers and difficulties of the current setup, a key reason this is such an important issue is also to do with the very future of specialised transport. In an industry struggling with driver recruitment the benefits of making the driver’s job as safe, secure and stress-free as possible are a nobrainer.

“Presently the estimated shortage of drivers in Europe is around 308,000 people,” says Klijn. “If we want to attract enough young people to become truck drivers we need to end these practices and arrange for decent resting facilities so that they don’t need to camp out by side of the road.”

One solution to ease the impending driver shortage crisis could be to aim to attract more women into the industry. If this is the way ahead, the need for a uniform, regulated system that ensures their safety and security becomes even more pressing.

And, at the end of the day, abnormal transport might ‘only’ account for two-and-a-half percent of the total volume of commercial traffic on Europe’s roads, but it’s a crucial two-and-a-half percent.

“Without it, no other infrastructure can be built,” smiles Klijn. “No bridges, no power stations, not even truck parking areas.” He has a point...

Sarens is moving 158 WTG elements over challenging terrain

Sarens bought new equipment to help move wind turbine sections on challenging terrain between China and Uzbekistan, via Kazakhstan.

Sarens is transporting wind turbine generator (WTG) elements for ACWA Power’s 1GW wind power project in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. The sections are being transported from the border of China to Bukhara region in Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan.

158 sets of WTGs sections, four transformers, and special lifting tools have to be delivered within 18 months via a challenging route.

Each WTG set contains:

  • Four tower sections with a maximum weight of 96 tonnes
  • Three blade sections of 29 tonnes each
  • One hub section weighing 44 tonnes
  • One nacelle section weighing 129 tonnes.

Sarens worked out the transport plan in detail. Given the magnitude of the project, new fl eet items have been bought. These include:

  • 25 Faymonville TeleMAX for blades
  • 32 Faymonville MultiMAX trailers for towers (S2, S3 and S4)
  • 11 Faymonville MultiMAX trailers with cranked axles (for S1 towers)
  • 32 Mercedes Benz Arocs 3358LS 6x4 trucks with latest EURO-VI emission technology.

All trailers and trucks were delivered from Europe to Almaty, Kazakhstan, via road, sea, and railway in a record 30-day window frame. All the trailers were delivered in ready-to-use condition. A challenge Sarens faced and addressed was the custom requirements of three different countries: China, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. For the detailed route study and transportation planning, Sarens also invested in trailer-simulation software which it used to estimate the correct road modifi cation costs, fi nding the most appropriate and shortest route, and trailer simulation on road turns.

According to project manager, Elvira Kolenko, “Transporting the wind blades was very challenging for us. The 84m long blades along with the trailer and track length measured around 105m. Almost 50,000sqm of civil ground preparation was done including: modifying of road turns, bypass, widening the road, etc. We also removed and relocated more than 60 light poles, wire cables, and road sign boards.

All modifi cations were done with prior permissions and respecting the local authorities and guidelines.”

For Sarens to complete its mission, more than 1422 trips of 3800km for round trip are required and it expects to complete the work around the end of October 2024.

ESTA suggests a heavy transport lane in a longitudinal direction along the parking spaces
Often arriving late at night makes finding a free parking spot even more challenging
Abnormal load drivers have a route to stick to; they can't seek out parking spots