Marine Transportation System

Rail Shows the Way to the Water

In MTS Policy on September 3, 2009 at 8:27 am

Closing image from a CSX commercial

This is a compelling image but not necessarily in the way intended by the folks at CSX.

For good reason I’ve heard many people credit CSX for the quality of its television commercials.  Norfolk Southern and the collective Class I industry also have put up very effective ads that have been running for a few years.   The message is exceedingly simple.  On a ton-for-ton basis rail is a fuel efficient and low carbon-footprint way to move lots of freight now traveling on the highways.

The ads are shown repeatedly in this D.C. market because this is where policy makers and influencers are.   The railroads want Congress to approve a targeted 25%  tax credit for their infrastructure investments.  They also know that new climate and energy policies could affect their bottom line.   So the industry is investing  millions to instill a favorable public image.  It is working.  Green groups are lobbying for more freight trains and fewer trucks.

As an admirer of the ad campaign I use this image in presentations about the need for marine highway policy.  The ad accomplishes two things for those of us who think that the even greater efficiency of marine transportation deserves equal attention.

First, it graphically reveals the availability of waterside capacity for the surface transportation system.  It is hidden capacity, metaphorically speaking, when early in the commercial the focus is on containers lifted from the congested roadway to the nearby train.  Then our last view is of a waterway so uncongested as to be empty of vessels.

Second, it serves as a challenge to the maritime industry, which  can top the railroad claims about fuel efficiency.   The tug and tow companies have undertaken a modest general ad campaign to carry that message.  However that AWO effort is the only one.  The present and future marine highway–including the capacity of ships to carry trucks themselves–remains a hidden asset because the larger industry isn’t telling the story.

There is no comparing the resources of the rail and barge industries.  So don’t look anytime soon for a comparable televised promotional effort by vessel operators.  Nor have I seen signs that the broader maritime sector is ready to pool resources to promote the marine highway to Washington.

If the public and the policy makers are to learn about the advantages of marine transportation and the potential for addressing some of the nation’s growing transportation challenges it will happen when the maritime sector comes together to carry that message.   The railroads can’t be counted on to place more subliminal maritime messages on TV.  Pbea

  1. […] on a Soap Box Derby special.  (That’s the only image the RRs have yet to use in their non-stop ads.)  So much so that environmental organizations have become the railroads’ best advocates […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: