Pony Express for long distance EV truck lines

In the Pony Express (and stage coach) era in the west, stations every twenty miles allowed the journey to continue with fresh horses.

The same method could be used for large semi-trucks with trailers. A station every 400 miles would allow switching trucks to one with a fully charged battery continuing the journey. Would you also change crews? If yes, long distance trucking could become more like railroading where crews travel back and forth between two cities.

You wonder how large a truck line needs to be for a Pony Express system to be cost effective. Drivers who got steady loads would probably be delighted.

Battery weight is a limitation in EV trucks used for long distances. This could be one solution to that problem.

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Hi @pauleckler,

I don’t believe it would work any better than the Pony Express did.

To go cross country would require a lot of trucks for a single load. Reuse of the exhausted vehicle would depend on charge rate. At a cost of $400K or more, it could be quite a capital expense.

Insurance on all of them, various registrations, etc only drive to cost up.

If they were to have an easily changed battery pack(s), that would be a much more palatable solution.

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Pony Express worked quite well until the transcontinental telegraph was completed.

Someone has to own the truck while its battery is being recharged. But there are lots of trucks out there going both directions all the time. This makes EV possible. If diesel is banned the only other choice is hydrogen, which some say is impractical and very expensive.


For really long distances… piggyback!

The Captain

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People double team trucks when something must go from say coast to coast as soon as possible. Maybe 36 hrs. In an emergency. Or our plant shuts down, etc.

You can’t do that with electric trucks because of charging time.

Piggyback railroad or container trains are priority trains, more efficient, but still slower than door to door truck.

Yes, piggyback is an option.

Truckers are limited to 10 hrs and then must rest. Often you see them pulled over at rest stops along the highway.

How far can they go in 10 hrs. 500 to 700 miles?

The ideal EV truck would have 700 mile range. Then trucker pulls over to rest while battery gets recharge. But that does require very large truck stops with chargers. And very large electric service.

You have to change crews (driver) because drivers are only permitted to drive for a limited number of hours before they are required to rest.

For years, UPS already does this between Salt Lake City and Cheyenne. They have trucks (regular diesel, not EV) going back and forth (via I-80). Swap trailer and driver on each end, and go back the other way. Repeat until all the stuff has reached the side it needs to be located for further distribution.

It’s a somewhat tricky route to drive, so they prefer drivers experienced on THAT route. Periodically the winds are so high that the trucks have to pull over and wait until the winds subside.


Yes, they can drive ten hours. But if range of electric truck is say 300 mi, they could conceivable switch trucks and go two laps.

Changing trucks makes long range electric trucks possible.

If it’s only for emergencies then the Pony Express model is hard to justify.

The Captain

Diesel trucks are out there all the time. Are we serious about zero carbon or not? Electrics work for local deliveries but over the road are problematic.

Serious, yes. Religious, no! Electric trucks are just starting. They can’t replace diesel now but in ten or 20 years they will have improved enough to replace diesel. Even if they were good enough now, the production capacity prevents them from replacing diesel right now.

The Captain

Yep. I just did a quick search and the typical trucker does 500 miles in their 10 hours. So it might be win-win, the trucker can do 250 in one direction, switch to a new charged vehicle, drive back 250 miles the other way, and be home in time for dinner.

California is already requiring electric trucks to serve the ports. So the transition is beginning. Banning all internal combustion engines is 2030. Time for progress. But making a beginning.

Yeah, well that’s not gonna happen. There are 16 million registered trucks in California, meaning they would have to replace more than 2 million a year, every year, from now to the deadline - or else decide that unloading the ports and delivering goods to the various merchants all around the state isn’t really that important.

And would they have to stop all the trucks coming from elsewhere if they weren’t electric, requiring a shift/driver change at the border? Don’t think so.

Enviable goal, but completely impractical.

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My understanding is that it is banning the sale of ICE trucks as of 2036.

Don’t they (CA) also have some sort of rule regarding ICE trucks inside ports that takes effect next year (2024)?

I agree it will not be easy. But ending fossil fuels in transportation is the goal. 9MM EV autos per year in 2030 is the goal.

I think we are asking if the technology needed for trucks will be ready. If not battery electrics, hydrogen fuel cell electrics is the most likely alternative. But that too requires much investment and better technology.

Yes. From the link I provided:

Depending on the type of HD vehicle and where it operates, the CARB rules take effect at different times. Last-mile delivery and drayage trucks—the short-haul vehicles that often operate around port locations—must be zero-emissions by 2035. Other categories have later dates: 2039 for local work vehicles like garbage trucks and day cab tractors and 2042 for sleeper cab tractors and specialty vehicles.