Rene Buron Collection

Kwikasair Canadian Operations

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I would like to add the enclosed text to my TNT truck pictures collection. It would be a good complement to the short stories of Gill Interprovincial Lines and D.S. Scott Transport already on your website. In fact, this text about Kwikasair Express oversaw the evolution of the Gill/D.S. Scott east-west corridor operations under TNT management.

Kwikasair Canadian Operations

By René Buron with the collaboration of Darren Hingston

The achievements of Kwikasair Express help TNT Canada to build its repu- tation as a different kind of carrier.

Moving freight almost 3,000 miles, thousands of them through the bleak central Prairies and the unforgiving Canadian Rockies, with team drivers and untried equipment performing a regular three day schedule, even in winter with snow sometimes up to fourteen feet deep in the mountain passes and glacial temperatures was the challenge that faced Kwikasair from the outset. For many sceptics and scoffers in Canada those guys from Down Under were crazy, at best dreamers and yet the first Kwikasair line haul schedule left Vancouver bound for Toronto on October 15, 1971 and arrived 58 hours later, a distance of 2,779 miles. The legend was born.

But firstly why and how did this legend come alive?

It all began in 1969 with the acquisition of Gill Interprovincial Lines. Once it was clear that TNT had invested in a highly successful Canadian long distance carrier, Peter Abeles decided to expand into the market by establishing a premium price express parcels service across the country. In 1969 he sent Ian Shortell and Max Russo to Canada to investigate the market potential to establish an Australian Kwikasair-type operation. Ian Shortell was in charge of all of the TNT express divisions in Australia and Max Russo was in charge of the Kwikasair operations in Melbourne. The two men were Kwikasair veterans, having worked for the company a long time before its takeover by TNT in 1968. After several weeks in Canada, they individually concluded that the introduction of high speed road service could be very profitable.

Their conclusions were based on the following findings. Surface transport was offered by the railroads at reasonable rates, but with erratic delivery time. A Ten to fourteen day transit time from Toronto to Vancouver was the normal service. Highway carriers offered a door to door, cross Canada service but transit time was not much faster, more or less seven days. When faster transit time was necessary shippers only had one choice, air freight line haul, faster, but at much higher rates.

With the new found need for an express service Max Russo was then posted to Canada with the brief to establish the new company, modelled very strongly on Kwikasair operating methods in Australia. The nucleus of the new organisation, which operated as an Alltrans Express Division, began with D.S. Scott Transport, an intercontinental carrier taken over by Alltrans few months before. D.S. Scott Transport owned intercontinental over the road operating rights, a must for Kwikasair. It also owned terminals in Vancouver, Toronto, London and Montreal. Ten months after the inauguration of the service there were fourteen road units performing the transcontinental “flight” in the three day transit time Kwikasair had set. During the week ending August 27, 1972, a total of 1,400 shipments were moved weighing 355,000 pounds. Consistent pick-up and delivery in three days became a reality and soon after a Montreal-Vancouver road service began.

Kwikasair P & D unit. (1978) Rene Buron Collection ©

Note : No more plain grey livery; in 1978 Kwikasair adopted a bold livery integrating purple, burnt orange and white colours.

So successful were the Vancouver-Toronto/Montreal lanes that in 1972 a service was started to and from Winnipeg. Then in June 1973 Kwikasair expanded into Alberta with terminals in Calgary and Edmonton and then in May 1974 a Prairies service was started, the network was now established. Kwikasair was an immediate success in Canada, it grew steadily to achieve and hold dominance in the highly lucrative expedited road service market. Kwikasair was no longer a division of Alltrans Express but an autonomous operating company of TNT Canada. However in the mid-seventies, other carriers tried to capitalise on Kwikasair’s success and attempted to establish competing operations. Kwikasair quickly introduced, in 1976, another Canadian “first“, a guaranteed service lane. Money back guarantees were offered on next day service between Toronto and Montreal and between Calgary and Edmonton.

The TNT Canada upper management now reacted rapidly, thinking that if there were to be a competitor, then TNT should own it in, the purpose, to saturate the market. So TNT established a new division named Express Road Service, but quickly switched it to a more attractive name coming from down under, Comet Expedited Service which operated as a division of Alltrans Express. Although Comet competed head to head with Kwikasair its operating profile was totally different. Comet was in fact simply a marketing unit and a freight steering operation. This was the opposite of Kwikasair who operated from their own terminals with their own equipment. Comet used Alltrans Express infrastructure and equipment, some of which was painted in Comet livery. The Comet freight was handled first, dispatched to the appropriate dock first and loaded with priority in the first pup trailer to go. Comets utilisation of the Alltrans Express network gave it access to major, but shared, resources comprising 20 terminals, 60 line haul tractors and 585 mostly pup trailers. For its part Kwikasair only operated from 6 terminals but was totally dedicated to expedited freight and operated 80 long haul tractors and 235 pup trailers. Over the years Comet became a highly successful operation, a significant profit centre for Alltrans Express and a viable challenger to Kwikasair across Canada. One advantage Comet had was that it could move trans-border freight taking advantage of Alltrans Express setting up on the U.S. west coast and in the Chicago region.

With the increasing competition from its sister division as well as outside carriers, Kwikasair diversified its service offerings based on the same models as the Kwikasair Australian division. As soon as 1979, Kwikasair entered the next-day air business with a new service Overnightair, which used scheduled airlines airfreight capacity for line haul across the country. In January 1983 a new service was started, Kwikasair Fashion Express, an expedited road service designed especially for the fashion industry, serving among others, its sister division Texport. However sensitive shipments handled by Kwikasair in Australia were entrusted to Comet (Cushionride Service) by the TNT Canada management.

Line haul unit (1984)
© Rene Buron Collection

The last part of the eighties was particularly tough for all the TNT divisions operating in the east-west corridor. The deregulation of the transport industry, in January 1988, which had stimulated the emergence of non-union low cost carriers and the addition of negative factors like huge interest rates, a strong Canadian dollar, growing labor unrest had

greatly weakened the established scheduled union carriers with large overheads like TNT. Then, in order to reduce the impacts of those factors, TNT decided to consolidate its carriers operating in the east-west corridor, Kwikasair being reintegrated under the Alltrans Express umbrella with its own expedite freight division and Comet being limited to its Cushionride Service. The Kwikasair Fashion express line haul operation was integrated into Texport as its long haul transport department operating under the Texpress name.

However this move was not sufficient, because with the signing of the Canada/U.S. Free Trade agreement, growing U.S. carriers could now enter the Canadian market and expand their presence. To add to this the Canadian manufacturing market suffered a deep mutation which saw the freight which had traditionally followed the east-west corridor in Canada start to move more extensively north-south in the later eighties. Volume slumped sharply in the east-west corridor prompting a costs explosion and major labor relations problems at the Alltrans/Comet/Kwikasair Group. After the spark of a strike at Alltrans in the fall of 1989 TNT decided to completely close the Alltrans/Comet/Kwikasair Group in October 1989, exactly twenty years after the first inroads by the Australians in Canada.

Comet tractor pulling an Alltrans and a Kwikasair pup trailers Canadian Rockies (1987)
@ Rene Buron Collection
Texpress long haul unit Montreal (1991)
@ Rene Buron Collection

Following the shutdown TNT Canada’s revenues decreased by 25% and its operations were reduced by 1,000 employees, 350 tractors, 900 trailers and 20 terminals. TNT’s activities in the east-west corridor in the nineties were limited to a high speed, on demand truckload service and a complementary flatbed/heavy haul operation with both units trading under the TNT Roadfast trademark, an air freight trucking operation through the TroAir division and a small domestic airfreight forwarding operation (previously Overnightair) trading as TNT Air. A major chapter of the history of TNT in Canada had come to the end.

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