AIR-CON: Transit Refrigeration Services

By: David Goeldner


There’s been a bit of confusion in the bus industry about ‘who does what’

AIR-CON: Transit Refrigeration Services
TRS recently assembled a bulk order of Thermaxx refrigeration units for Woolworths’ Sydney frozen foods distribution centre

Australia’s leading air-conditioning brand — Thermo King — appears to be everywhere.

In trucking terms, the bulk of your frozen vegetables picked up at your local Woolworths supermarket are likely kept cold in a Thermo King installed van, and afterwards you keep your cool on the bus trip home from the shops with said frozen meals as a TK air-con pod works silently overhead. 

The common denominator between truck and bus is ‘the King’, but just who handles the domestic supply of the popular American Thermo King brand isn’t clear, and it’s something operators should know about.

Australia’s authorised supplier of Thermo King air-conditioning units to the bus industry is QTK, based in Brisbane.

If you are looking to buy a TK unit for your bus, that’s where you go first. That part is easy, and understood.

But air-conditioning units can be fickle beasts, no matter which brand you choose, and there is ever the chance that before the warranty is up, you might need to seek assistance from a service technician.

As with many things mechanical, operators don’t want to run the risk of voiding warranty by calling a technician who might not have the appropriate accreditation.

That’s where Sydney-based Transit Refrigeration Services (TRS) enters the picture.

TRS is Australia’s largest bus service agent for Thermo King — yes, the biggest.

But as TRS Managing Director Greg Woodley explains, while his company will happily attend to your warranty needs, one thing he can’t do — if you are a bus operator — is sell you a Thermo King air-conditioning unit.

Woodley explains the agreement QTK has with Thermo King in the United States is for bus sales and bus service, whereas TRS has just bus service.

"So we can’t sell you a unit, but we can maintain them," Woodley says.

"We can do your warranty and we can sell you spare parts."

TRS owns two dealerships, the head office at Huntingwood in Sydney’s outer west, and a smaller operation in Adelaide.

Its main southern rival is Southern States Group, also with a bus service-only agreement, and based in Melbourne.

Across Australia, the authorised service repairers for Thermo King bus air-conditioning units are TRS, WATK in Perth, Southern States Group in Melbourne, and QTK in Queensland.

"Our business is a bit different to these other groups in that we have very big body building and truck rental businesses which the others don’t have," Woodley says.

The Huntingwood facility near Blacktown in Sydney is expansive, with a large workshop established to build the Thermaxx refrigerated bodies. A large order of Thermaxx units was recently filled for the nearby Woolworths frozen foods distribution centre.

Located just a kilometre from Sydney’s Eastern Creek motor sport park, Woodley’s operation is perched centrally in the transport and freight logistics hub of New South Wales, providing access to a large truck-trailer client base requiring air-conditioning installation and servicing.

Bus air-conditioning is a smaller, yet steadily growing, part of Woodley’s enterprise even without the licence to sell the product. In the trucking sector however, Woodley enjoys the ‘full’ Thermo King agreement for both the supply and servicing of TK units.

Even without the supply agreement for bus, Woodley sees the people moving sector as an important part of the TRS business mix, so much so that he has created a separate bus division at TRS, led Bus Account Manager, John Lock.

TRS has just celebrated 20 years as a Thermo King dealer in the truck transport sector, although the company’s history stems back to the early 1980s.

Back in 1993, Woodley’s business was based solely around TK products, but now it’s more like 50 per cent, which means TRS now accommodates the service and repair of a broad range of air-conditioning brands across truck and bus — although Thermo King still dominates.

Lock says the TRS bus department has been operating for about 10 years, gradually becoming an important and integral part of the business.

ON THE ROAD

John Lock oversees the TRS bus division which services a broad area, mainly in NSW, using 11 service vans.

Unlike the larger truck-trailer side where TRS services 40 per cent of its truck transport clients on the road and 60 per cent in the workshop, with bus it’s more like 95 per cent on the road and 5 per cent in the workshop — hence the requirement for a mobile service operation.

Woodley says the TRS bus service division is actually bigger than QTK and South States.

"We are more active in the bus service side," he says.

Lock says the lack of the bus supply agreement comes at a benefit to the operator in that TK servicing by TRS is "very focussed".

"We are quite non-denominational in what we service," Lock says.

"We are not trying to sell a Thermo King unit — we will support whoever is out there."

TRS is aware that most of its customer base does not have just one product across a bus fleet.

However, the TRS servicing of other air-conditioning brands relates to ‘out of warranty’ work, as the only warranty agreement in place is with Thermo King.

If a non-TK unit requires work under warranty, TRS won’t touch it — as much as they might like to.

 

SUBHEAD: SYDNEY’S FINEST COVERED  

 

Lock and the service team, managed by Service Manager Tony Cavanagh, have some of Sydney’s biggest names in bus transport on its client list, among them Forest Coachlines, Blue Mountains Bus Company, Comfort Delgro Cabcharge (CDC) and the State Transit Authority – the latter on the list being TRS’s biggest client.

"But not only do we do Sydney metro, we have expanded our client base to regional and rural areas from Eden in the south, to Tamworth in the north and out to Dubbo," Lock says.

"Buslines Group is an important customer, where we look after their operations around the state of NSW."

Lock says the key thing with bus air-conditioning is quality service.

"If you get the service done correctly using the proper parts, and being thorough, it cuts out most of the problems you might have for the rest of the year, reducing breakdowns and dependency on having someone around the corner that can come and fix their bus," he says.

"These guys will have their servicing done properly, and if they do have issues they can use a local person under our direction."

Tony Cavanagh assigns his team of technicians to conduct NSW-wide service calls throughout the year, with technicians spending days at a time working through maintenance issues at regionally located depots.

As with all things mechanical, it’s not just a matter of having the technical know-how to fix a problem, but it is just as important to back this up with access to spare parts.

Woodley keeps a large inventory of TK parts, much of which is sourced from the US headquarters at Minneapolis.

"We do monthly sea freights and weekly air freights," he says.

"A lot of our bus parts are coming from Shannon in Ireland, and a much smaller percentage of our parts come from Thermo King in Shanghai."

Woodley says his business is a bit like a car or truck dealership in that TRS sells new equipment and spare parts, does warranty work and vehicle servicing.

"The beauty of Thermo King is generally spare parts for older buses are not a problem," he says.

"But there are some brands out there that have ‘withered on the vine’."

GROWING THE SERVICE

Woodley’s persistence with bus air-conditioning in the past decade now sees a thriving department with its own dedicated bus service repair area, fitted to a high NSW government standard.

"We keep feeding the bus department more equipment and more people and it just keeps growing," Woodley says.

"Our bus service department will grow at a fairly rapid rate as it has done under John Lock’s guidance."

Lock backs his boss’s summation with compelling company statistics, saying the last five years has seen the TRS bus department grow at 30 per cent each year, and by 2013 serviced about 2,000 buses a year, just in NSW.

"It’s just a continuation of the structure we have in place to support the customer and in turn they support the business and it continues to grow," Lock says.

"We would be the biggest bus air-conditioning service organisation in NSW and possibly in Australia."

Woodley has no doubt the decision to go down a public transport pathway has borne fruit.

"We have invested in a brand and the Thermo King Corporation has invested in us," he says.

"There are brands out there with no service back up and no spare parts.

"We are pretty lucky to support a great product that’s backed up to the hilt. We are proud to represent Thermo King."

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