Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a study in November comparing truck and rail fuel efficiency. It’s an update of a 1991 FRA report.
The new study identifies rail as more efficient. No surprise there.
The report, Comparative Evaluation of Rail and Truck Fuel Efficiency on Competitive Corridors (November 19, 2009), should be useful to Secretary Ray LaHood in developing a new freight policy. But he should not leave it at road and rail. Marine transport–the wet surface transportation–should be in the mix.
The Secretary has spoken about the need to understand how marine transportation can be better integrated with the surface transportation system. He has identified marine highway development–and the capacity it would bring to domestic freight transportation system–as an administration objective.
The MARAD-funded TTI modal comparison report is very helpful in understanding how barge transportation compares to rail and road. Does that tell us all we need to know? After all, there’s more to domestic marine freight movement than tugs and barges. More to the point, there’s more in store for coastwise and inland services than what is on the water today. How would the planned, new Ro-Ro and container vessels compare to rail and truck? Policy makers need complete 3-mode data to make complete policy decisions.
The freight logistics industry has pointed to the lack of a national freight policy. The Freight Stakeholders Coalition announced in May its suggested “platform” for a freight policy. As the platform suggests the policy should “foster operational and environmental efficiencies in goods movement.” The platform also calls for the establishment of a “multi-modal freight office” in the Office of the Secretary (OST) in the interest of advancing freight mobility.
A multi-modal view that is not hampered by an old view of how transportation works is what is called for today. Greater fuel efficiency isn’t an ideological issue. It’s very much an economic matter to business and a bi-partisan policy matter as we understand the country’s interest in energy security. Likewise we see environmental issues–emissions, particularly–becoming more of a business and policy concern.
That’s why the developers of the GIFT model are attracting interest. Dr. James Corbett of the University of Delaware and Dr. James Winebrake of the Rochester Institute of Technology–with the support of USDOT, MARAD and others–are developing the Geospatial Intermodal Freight Transportation (GIFT) model. GIFT enables the fuel and emission comparison of modes for specific freight routes. In other words, logistics planners soon will have a tool that goes beyond the one-sided “carbon calculator” analysis available on some rail and marine transportation company websites.
Corbett and Winebrake add further value with their IF-TOLD Mitigation Framework that they describe as “A Context for Mode Shifting Discussions.”
Some good work is being done to provide more information for making modal decisions and enable the development of smarter freight policy. With any luck the policy makers will determine what multi-modal information is available as well as what additional information is needed before deciding on a long overdue national freight policy and the successor to SAFETEA-LU. Pbea