Marine Transportation System

Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Our Friend and Partner, Mr. Truck

In Efficiency, Intermodal, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on May 12, 2010 at 12:16 am

Everyone who thinks there are too many rigs on the roads, raise your hand.  If today you used something that arrived on a truck, raise your other hand.

You can put both hands down.

Bill Graves, President of the ATA, has taken umbrage at some of the recent rhetoric in Washington.  Not much love is being heard.  Just “take trucks off the road.”

It must have hurt to read this sharpened lead in a recent Journal of Commerce cover story:  “The Obama administration is forming a national freight transportation policy that can be boiled down to one concept: Get more trucks off the roads.”

In his April 30, 2010 letter to Secretary Ray LaHood Mr. Graves points to USDOT’s favorable references to, and funding of, intermodal rail and marine highway as ways to “take trucks off the road.”  The Trucker-in-Chief disagrees.

Of course Secretary LaHood has good reason to point to rail and water.  We all know intermodal rail is more fuel efficient than moving packages downhill on a Soap Box Derby special.  (That’s the only image the RRs have yet to use in their non-stop ads.)  So much more efficient that environmental organizations have become the railroads’ best advocates here in town.

And barges can carry even more tonnage on a whiff of what is in a locomotive’s fuel tank.   Too bad far fewer people know it (although the barge industry is trying to do something about that).

There are great efficiencies to be realized in the rail and marine modes.  Moving some truck loads to rail and water routes can be both good business and policy.

But here’s a shocker.  Trucks aren’t going away.  Not unless you want to have to trek down to the docks to pick up your new flat screen.  Or to the farm to get your cabbage.

The “off the road” talk is shorthand.  Not the full story.  The policy talk doesn’t single out just trucks.  It’s just that one doesn’t hear politicos say “take cars off the road” nearly as much.  Yet that also is part of USDOT’s “livable community” message.

Under Secretary Roy Kienitz said in his March testimony about the TIGER-like National Infrastructure Investments program that it  “focuses funding on investments in whichever modes are most effective in achieving our national transportation goals…”

The policy talk is about making the most of each of the modes.  Using the modes where they are most efficient in moving the goods.  Where possible make the long haul on rail much as trucking increasingly is hopping the freight…much as trucks will become customers of freight ferries and other coastal services.  Maybe even become owners.

And notwithstanding some of the words used by short sea advocates, the marine highway effort is not about putting trucks and their drivers off the road and out of business.  It’s about giving trucking logistics another route to take and an opportunity to rationalize operations.

Bill Graves is right to complain about glib “off the road” talk.  There are better ways to describe the future role of trucks, water and rail in the national transportation system.   Pbea

Good Things to Hear — Pt. 2

In Efficiency, Infrastructure, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on May 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm

This except from the opening of  “A National Intermodal Shift” by W. Cassidy and J. Boyd of the Journal of Commerce, April 5, 2010:

The Obama administration is forming a national freight transportation policy that can be boiled down to one concept: Get more trucks off the roads.

Key officials are increasingly making it clear they want to move a larger percentage of the nation’s intercity freight by rail or water, to take pressure off congested and crumbling highways and to help improve the environment.

“We want to keep goods movement on water as long as possible, and then on rail as long as possible and truck it for the last miles,” Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari said at a March 24 Senate committee hearing. [emphasis added]

In a single sentence, Porcari described what appears to be the most sweeping change in a generation in the federal government’s approach to shipping and transportation, promising an ambitious and concerted effort to redirect the way freight flows through the country’s long-standing supply networks.

The JOC cover story is intriguing to the reform minded (and unwelcome to the road-minded).  It builds on recent statements made by DOT officials in interviews and Hill hearings.  The view that is emerging from the Secretary’s office is a policy perspective that adheres less to modal stovepipes (and whether there is a pot of money devoted to a stovepipe) and more to intermodal efficiency.  It first asks if a project would provide public benefit and secondarily whether the infrastructure is in public or private hands.  Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz testified at a March 17 House hearing.  He opened by outlining the principles that are guiding the Administration’s developing transportation policy.

Secretary [Ray] LaHood has decided to focus on five key strategic goals as priorities in our national transportation policy – safety, economic competitiveness, state of good repair, livability, and environmental sustainability.  Our policy on freight transportation grows out of our focus on these five key strategic goals. We want a freight policy that will allow us to target our investments on projects that are most effective in allowing us to achieve these goals.

Later in the statement Roy Kienitz said this:

Whether freight infrastructure is publicly-owned or privately-owned, it produces a mix of public and private benefits. Shippers and other customers of the freight transportation system derive private benefits from freight transportation, and the Nation as a whole derives public benefits from our freight transportation infrastructure, whether that infrastructure is publicly or privately owned. Freight that moves on more energy-efficient modes – whether the right-of-way is publicly or privately owned – enhances our energy independence and reduces adverse climate change effects. Freight that moves on a lower-cost right-of-way – whether publicly or privately owned – enhances our economic competitiveness by preserving capital for hiring and additional capital investments. The most sensible freight transportation policy will be one that directs transportation infrastructure investment to where it will have the greatest impact on our desired outcomes, regardless of whether those modes are publicly or privately owned, or whether they have their own source of trust fund revenues.

Given the opportunity to initiate a  multimodal grant program DOT is applying principles like  transportation efficiency and public benefit.  It explains over $300 million in TIGER grants going to expanding double stack rail corridor capacity and to port improvements.

These are not your typical Federally supported projects.  Then again, what we are starting to hear out of 1200 New Jersey Avenue is not your typical transportation policy.   Pbea

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