Chemical Carrier Meets the Task Of Los Angeles Area Operations

SNARLED highways, metered freeway ramps, and scorching summer heat make operating a trucking company around Los Angeles more of a challenge than most people want to face. DTI in Compton, California, has been meeting the challenges for nearly 18 years.

Located near the busy refinery and port area south of Los Angeles, DTI specializes in the transportation of hazardous materials throughout the southern California area. The carrier operates a fleet of 60 tank trailers used in dedicated service to haul such products as caustic soda, bleach, alum, ferric chloride, and hydrochloric, sulfuric, nitric, and phosphoric acids.

About a third of revenue comes from intermodal cargoes, including products transferred at Titan Terminal & Transport in South Gate, California. With more than 50 rail car spots, the facility specializes in transloading acids, caustics, and hydrogen peroxide.

"Because DTI has limited its focus to the shorthaul market, the carrier has developed the necessary expertise to serve customers in a very demanding and competitive environment," says Dana Fontaine, Titan terminal manager. "People in our industry talk about price, quality, and service. With DTI, you receive all three.

"DTI drivers handle themselves in a very professional manner when loading at our terminal. They arrive with clean and mechanically sound equipment, comply with our personal protective equipment requirements, and complete the product transfer in a safe manner."

Company Acquisition DTI started out with only six transports. Twelve years ago, it was acquired as a separate company by Bulk Transportation Inc in Walnut, California. Although each company operates independently, DTI has profited from the management expertise at Bulk Transportation.

"The acquisition improved our visibility," says Harold Capps, DTI manager. "Bulk Transportation has working relationships with larger customers. The acquisition gave us access to those customers who needed someone to haul product locally.

"For example, we wouldn't be able to provide services to major companies such as Dow Chemical without our connection to Bulk Transportation. Availability of additional equipment also helps both companies. Having enough of the right equipment available when a customer calls is critical to company service."

Bulk Transportation recently leased 10 transports from DTI for hauling caustic soda and hydrochloric acid from Henderson, Nevada, to Los Angeles. The immediate need for additional equipment was a result of chronic service delays from Union Pacific railroad and is related to UP's merger of Southern Pacific Corporation.

For several weeks, DTI also sent drivers and transports to the San Francisco Bay area because a customer was unable to get on-time service from the railroad. Drivers were put up in hotels overnight to comply with hours-of-service regulations.

Bulk Transportation is involved in just about every aspect of bulk trucking except petroleum transportation. From its origins as a small dry bulk hauler, Bulk Transportation has moved into new product areas on its own, and into others through acquisition of other carriers.

"The acquisitions provided us with the opportunity to broaden our service capabilities in California," says Gary Cross, president of Bulk Transportation. "DTI is well recognized for outstanding service performance. Management has a proven track record of meeting or exceeding customer requirements."

Most of DTI's operations are conducted in the southern California area. However, the carrier recently began hauling eight to 10 loads per month of caustic soda and nitric acid to manufacturers of electronic and computer parts in Tijuana and Mexicali, Mexico.

Sanitation Business A growing segment of its business has been hauling caustic soda in dedicated trailers to sewer systems in the Los Angeles area. Demand for caustic soda continues to increase because buildup of acidic algae damages sewer systems by dissolving concrete pipe walls.

Drivers gravity drop an average of 13 loads per week through manhole covers on city streets. To control the rate of product flow during unloading, tank trailers are equipped with Signet flow meters.

"Hauling caustic soda for the county sanitation department represents a growing area of our business," Capps says. "The continuing damage to sewer systems is a problem that isn't going to disappear. We intend to increase our work in this area."

While local trips usually average no more than 125 miles, DTI staff always are looking for ways to increase productivity. New power units are the most recent examples of the continuing quest for improved efficiency.

The carrier has standardized on Ken-worth T800 tractors with Cummins M11 engines. The engines are spec'd at 370 horsepower with 1,350 ft-lb of torque at 1200 rpm. Other drivetrain components include 10-speed Fuller RTX-14710C transmissions and Eaton tandem-drive axles rated at 46,000 lb. Axle ratio is 3.90.

The tractors are equipped with Rockwell WABCO antilock braking, Eaton Extended Service S-cam brakes, Centrifuse drums, Gunite automatic slack adjusters, Spicer clutches, 30-cfm Holset air compressors, and Delco alternators and starters. DTI specifies Hogebuilt stainless steel quarter fenders for durability.

Weight is minimized wherever possible to maximize payload. The newest trucks have Kenworth's Airglide 200 suspension, aluminum hubs, and Alcoa aluminum wheels.

Tractors are equipped with Cadec on-board computers. DTI is upgrading to the Cadec 4000Plus, which includes a credit-card sized PCMCIA card that can store up to one megabyte of driver trip information.

Driver Comfort Driver comfort is an important element in the newest power units. Driver amenities include a tilting and telescoping steering column, cruise control, powered window and mirror on the passenger side, Panasonic AM/FM weatherband radio with cassette tape player, and Bostrom Talladega air-suspension seat.

The carrier has 40 drivers, all of whom are company employees with the exception of one owner-operator. Each driver applicant's motor vehicle records are reviewed, and anyone with more than two moving violations is rejected.

Other basic hiring criteria include no more than two DOT-reportable accidents in the past three years and no conviction for driving while intoxicated. Random drug testing for all employees, including office personnel, is performed every three months.

"We try to hire people who have a stable work history, Capps says. "We want to avoid drivers who have bounced from one job to another."

Regardless of how busy the company is, all newly hired drivers receive two weeks of training that includes classroom instruction and hands-on practice with a driver trainer. Newly hired drivers are not assigned to a transport until they complete the training.

"Education and training are the most important contributions a company can provide for the prevention of accidents," Capps says. "Training is essential to produce a stable workforce of drivers."

Safety is stressed throughout the training and includes the proper handling of all chemical products transported by DTI. Drivers can haul only products on which they have received training. Even drivers with previous tank experience must attend product instruction and participate in on-the-road training.

Drivers wear uniforms and carry all of the necessary equipment to perform their jobs safely. Protective clothing and equipment include rain slicker, goggles, acid-resistant gloves, and hardhat.

Fleet Image Driver appearance is important, as is fleet image. Tractors are washed on a regular basis. Each driver is responsible for keeping the cab interior clean. Perfect-driver awards are presented annually to those with no moving violations, no log violations, and no problems with customers. Drivers are paid by the hour and are equipped with two-way radios to keep in constant contact with the dispatch office.

Part of the dispatcher's job is to reinforce company and safety standards every day to drivers. The carrier also relies on the dispatcher to help reduce turnover.

"Most of our drivers have been with the company for at least five years," says Jo Ann White, dispatcher. "Some have been here for more than a decade. Even when business is slow, I try to make sure that everyone gets work. I work with them to help them achieve their goals."

Drivers also play a role in maintenance by reporting vehicle problems immediately. Maintenance is handled by two company mechanics.

The preventive maintenance program requires vehicle inspection every 60 days, which includes changing engine oil and filters. Air lines, brakes, suspension parts, hoses, fittings, fifthwheel, and tires are examined for wear. Tires with tread between 10/32" and 7/32" are replaced, depending on overall condition. The maintenance shop keeps a "quick-check" list for each power unit. On the list are repairs and parts replacement for the past seven years.

The maintenance program helps ensure that DTI continues to operate some of the safest and most profitable transports on the road.

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