Tri Star Transport shines in Nashville

April 1, 2005
AT A TIME when many petroleum marketers are shutting down or selling their transportation operations, Tri Star Transport LLC has taken a different route.

AT A TIME when many petroleum marketers are shutting down or selling their transportation operations, Tri Star Transport LLC has taken a different route. The Nashville, Tennessee-based marketer actually has strengthened its transportation program.

With 12 transports, Tri Star Trans-port keeps fuel supplies flowing to approximately 250 convenience stores, about 100 of which are owned by Tri Star Energy LLC. Premier Truck & Trailer, a division of Tri Star Transport, provides contract maintenance and fleet terminal services.

“We believe we need a strong transportation organization to efficiently handle the number of C-stores that we serve,” says Tim Mitchell, president of Tri Star Transport. “Our in-house fleet gives us better control over the distribution process.”

Management has worked hard to ensure that the transportation program is a lean, efficient operation. This is enhanced by savings and rebates from the transportation programs offered by the buying group.

Created about three years ago through a combination of the petroleum hauling assets of Kimbro Oil Company and Parmen Oil Company, Tri Star Transport operates primarily within a 70-mile radius of Nashville. Most of the C-stores supplied by Tri Star Transport are high-volume operations.

Keeping the C-stores supplied in a timely manner requires careful management of the 12 petroleum transports in the Tri Star Transport fleet. The rigs run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Responsibility for ensuring maximum efficiency of the distribution operation falls on the heavily automated dispatch department. Tri Star Transport has been very aggressive in adopting some of the most sophisticated software for managing fleet operations and C-store fuel inventories.

At the core of the fleet's computerized dispatch is @Road's mobile resource management system (a buying group partner), which has been in place for about five years. Vehicle location information from the @Road system is displayed on a large projection screen in the dispatch center. Vehicle information is updated every 15 minutes.

Global positioning

The Internet-based @Road system combines global positioning capabilities with text messaging. The GPS part of the product ensures accurate, real-time locating of fleet assets. Wireless data technology provides fast, reliable communications.

Communication between dispatchers and drivers also is enhanced with Nextel cellular telephones with walkie-talkie capability.

Software from Titan Management Group is used to track underground storage tank inventory from the Tri Star Transport dispatch center. Tank readings are updated three times a day.

Store employees manually input the tank readings at a majority of the C-stores. However, five test locations have been outfitted to provide live inventory updates, and management hopes to begin rolling out the system to all of the Tri Star C-stores in the near future.

Dispatchers work closely with the 20-plus drivers who keep the Tri Star Transport fleet rolling around the clock. Typically, daytime drivers will haul three to four loads a shift from one or more of the seven petroleum terminals in the greater Nashville area. At night, drivers are able to deliver up to five loads per shift.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Tri Star Transport management team is finding enough drivers to keep all of the tractors busy. “It's difficult to find enough people right now,” says Pat Leding, Tri Star Transport safety director. “The fact that we are a local hauler is an advantage, but we still have a driver shortage.”

Driver applicants must be at least 22 years old, and the petroleum hauler prefers people who are 25 years or older. Tri Star Transport will hire people fresh out of driving school, and it does train some promising candidates from scratch.

All new hires — regardless of truck driving experience — go through a detailed orientation. Training segments include the JJ Keller speed and space management system, Department of Transportation drug and alcohol awareness instruction, driving techniques, emergency maneuvers, and tank rollover awareness.

Driver logs get a lot of attention. “We want to make sure drivers are fully aware of the logging requirements under the new DOT rules,” Leding says. “Overall, the rule changes were good for our operation. “We like the 34-hour restart.”

Equipment orientation

Instructors show proper operation of product-handling hardware on the Tri Star trailers. In addition, any newly-hired driver without petroleum hauling experience is put through four to six weeks of on-the-job training just to learn the specifics of tank truck operations.

Safe driving is stressed throughout the training, and the safety message is reinforced through quarterly meetings. Tri Star Transport also encourages safe driving with a yearly cash bonus that is paid at Christmastime. Drivers without a chargeable accident, incident, and cross-drop qualify for the bonus.

Safety is a consideration in the fleet specifications. For instance, rigs are outfitted with television cameras for improved safety during backing.

All of the tractors in the fleet are Kenworth T800s, and none are more than five years old. Tractors average 100,000 miles a year. Most trips are less than 60 miles.

The newest tractors have 350-horsepower Caterpillar engines and Fuller nine-speed transmissions. Air starters from Ingersoll Rand are used because fleet management believes they are safer than electric starters.

Each tractor has a 120 psig air tank for the starter. Each engine start takes 40 to 50 pounds of air, meaning there is enough air in the tank for two tries.

Weight-saving features for tractors and trailers include Alcoa aluminum disc wheels and wide-base single tires. The 385/65R22.5 tires save several hundred pounds per rig.

Petroleum trailers

Tri Star Transport has standardized on 9,400-gallon, four-compartment Heil aluminum petroleum trailers. Tank hardware includes Civacon bottom-loading adapters and overfill protection, Knappco internal valves, Betts domelids, OPW elbows, and Kanaflex hoses with PT Couplings.

While tractor-trailer rigs predominate in the fleet, Tri Star Transport does have two tankwagons for special applications. “We need them to deliver kerosene and diesel to a few Nashville locations with above-ground tanks,” Leding says. “We also use them for farm accounts.”

All of the fleet vehicles are serviced by Premier Truck & Trailer. Preventive maintenance includes engine oil and filter changes every 10,000 miles. “We feel that schedule works best for our fleet operation,” Leding says.

Aggressive fleet maintenance ensures that the rigs keep the fuel flowing to the C-stores served by Tri Star.