Marine Transportation System

Archive for the ‘Intermodal’ Category

The Grass is Greener — Pt. 2

In Efficiency, Intermodal, Marine Highway on January 19, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Envy is a perfectly serviceable starting point for developing national transportation policy. Our new high-speed rail program is an apt example. It’s a Euro-inspired, greenish gleam in a candidate’s eye made billion-dollar real by our new president and the stimulus package. While we wait for our first bullet-ride to Disney World or Albany let’s consider what the national transportation policies of other countries are accomplishing. We continue this series with another look to the north and Canada’s North American gateway strategy. This time…investment in short sea.

This item caught the eye.

Government of Canada takes action to facilitate shortsea shipping

OTTAWA — The Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, today announced completion of the Southern Railway of British Columbia (SRY) rail barge ramp, a shortsea shipping project at the marine rail terminal on Annacis Island in Delta. This project was made possible by $4.6 million in federal funding under the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative.  (release: January 15, 2010)

Turns out the Canadian gateway strategy isn’t just attracting international containers to ease them on down to the U.S. by rail.  The plans for the Pacific gateway include using the marine highway as an “optimizing” element for goods movement.   “Better use of our waterways through shortsea shipping can help alleviate congestion, facilitate trade, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase overall transportation efficiency.”

After a call for proposals five projects were selected for the plan totaling over CN$20 million, to be matched by the private sector grantees:

  • Fraser River Shuttle;
  • Deltaport Shortsea Berth;
  • Vanterm Shortsea Berth;
  • Mountain View Apex Container Terminal; and
  • Southern Railway of B.C. Rail Barge Ramp.

These projects in the Vancouver, B.C. region “call for the development of specialized facilities such as docks, ramps, and fixed-crane infrastructure that would facilitate shortsea shipping of a variety of cargos (including containers, railcars, and break-bulk cargos) that ultimately either originate from or are destined for Asia.”  (release: September 5, 2008)

This marine highway element of the Asia-Pacific Gateway strategy is designed to increase efficiency and reduce environmental impacts of goods movement.  It is intermodal. It ties marine to rail and road.  “The Annacis Island marine rail terminal will provide industries in coastal B.C. and Vancouver Island with rail connections to four major railways: Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe.”   Obviously, an equal opportunity connector.

It may be a fair to say that the above grants planned to boost short sea shipping in Canada’s largest port region are roughly comparable to the marine highway grants program recently authorized by the U.S. Congress. The Canadian grants support pieces of a strategic plan; the U.S. grants will support projects that meet certain market and public benefit criteria and are in designated “corridors.”   The Canadian grants support capital requirements, which the U.S. version is likely to do.   On the other hand, the above grants go to projects of companies, such as terminal operators.  While most marine highway projects in the U.S. are assumed to be private sector initiatives the grants likely would go to sponsoring public agencies.

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One googling leads to another.  I’ll close with a video from The Sustainable Region TV program of Vancouver, a place known for its clear skies (and a looming Olympics).    Pbea

Mile Markers on the Marine Highway

In Intermodal, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on December 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Since the notion of American marine highways helping to mitigate landside congestion took root early this decade–along with the call for Federal policy and program–voices have been heard to ask, “so, where is it?”   “What happened to those promised new short sea services?”  Why isn’t [big box retailer] using coastal shipping?

Cynics who habitually dismiss the competitiveness of U.S. flag shipping eagerly seize opportunity to validate their view.  Observers see their doubts re-enforced or just wonder if there is any there there.

Meanwhile, advocates are impatient for government to concur with the public benefits rationale by enacting major policy directives and funding game changing projects.  (There is also the understandable impatience of entrepreneurial risk takers whose initiatives could use a short term assist to help establish themselves in the market.)

I count among those seeking a decisive boost for new marine highway operations.  But expectations are tempered by the Washington experience.  To keep our sanity folks here learn to tolerate the tortoise pace of policy-craft.   We look for the smallish increments that represent progress, even as we look to accomplish greater things farther down the road.

So what  progress has been made?

Those are the highlights, added to by various research papers and reports.  It is worth noting that the above achievements are not the result of a well-funded, cohesive effort by a powerful maritime industry lobby.  (Indeed, one might argue that none of those modifiers apply, especially when compared to other transportation sectors.)  They largely were achieved by decision-makers coming to recognize the inherent advantages of domestic marine transportation, and with the encouragement of various labor, port, public agency and private sector advocates (as well as the Coastwise Coalition that I chair) who have validated that policy direction.

So what progress will we see in the coming year or two?

  • USDOT will announce the multimodal TIGER grants and we will learn if applicants whose projects would enhance new AMH services–such as Eco Transport (CA) and SeaBridge Freight (TX/FL)–are among the awardees.
  • MARAD will issue a final rule for the SST/AMH  program, designate AMH coastal and inland corridors, and call for projects.
  • USDOT will report to Congress on hindrances to AMH development and make recommendations, some of which may resemble recommendations made to the Secretary in 2009 by the Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council.
  • MARAD will issue a rule for the new grants program and, with the cooperation of the Secretary, will make every effort to award grants by October 2010.
  • President Obama’s FY 2011 budget will include a specific funding request for SST grants.
  • Congress will act on the legislation to exempt from the Harbor Maintenance Tax non-bulk cargo that moves between US ports and among Great Lakes ports.
  • Congress will consider new surface transportation policy that to some extent will recognize how AMH routes can benefit traditional users of congested land routes.

That’s what I see happening.    Pbea

Rail + Road + Water = Surface Freight System

In Efficiency, Intermodal, Surface Transportation Policy on December 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm

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

California Trailblazing to a Miami Tunnel

In Intermodal, Ports, Surface Transportation Policy on November 17, 2009 at 11:04 pm

When earth was turned in 1997 for the Alameda Corridor project in the San Pedro Bay port region more than one kind of ground breaking was occurring.  The Port of Miami is a beneficiary.

In freight transportation policy circles the Alameda Corridor project one day may be legend.  The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were the gaping end of a freight funnel that emptied import boxes onto the exit rails and streets.  In essence the solution was to eliminate grade crossings by building a blow-grade rail way out of town.  A big project with a $2.4B price tag.  A key to the financing was Federal credit assistance.  The project and two others in California were the first to benefit by this innovation.  A paper on the FHWA website tells the story.

Due to Federal budgetary constraints, however, the grant was not deemed to be a fiscally or politically viable option. An alternative form of Federal support for this project was needed, and by 1997 the answer was clear: Federal credit enhancement in the form of a junior-lien loan to ACTA.

The fiscal year 1997 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 104-208) provided $58.7 million for DOT to cover the capital reserve charges associated with making a direct loan of up to $400 million to ACTA for the Alameda Corridor Project. This represents an actual budgetary cost of 14.7 percent of the face value of credit assistance. The legislation also provided that the loan be repaid within 30 years from the date of project completion and that the interest rate on the loan not exceed the 30-year Treasury rate.

Inspired by the success of leveraging non-Federal investment for large infrastructure project, particularly private financing, Congress in 1998 fashioned a fully articulated TIFIA program.  It was adjusted in SAFETEA-LU with a lowered threshold to make more projects eligible.

Nearly $7 billion in projects in 13 states have benefited since TIFIA was created by Congress.  The Port of Miami’s rail freight tunnel had an uncertain future but with the October announcement the financing is in place and a $607 million construction project soon will be underway.  Not bad.   Pbea

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Putting an ! on Intermodal

In Intermodal, Marine Highway on November 6, 2009 at 6:39 pm

It’s been talked about for a while but the talking is over.  J.B. Hunt Transport Services did a major deal with Norfolk Southern Railway.  According to the Journal of Commerce (November 6, 2009):

Hunt said the accord “will further establish the parties as the leading providers of transcontinental and local intermodal service in the eastern half of the United States.”

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The new deal with NS, the trucker said, gives both partners “a platform to accelerate the conversion of traditional truck traffic to cost effective, environmentally friendly intermodal transportation with service that is competitive with truckload moves.”

It makes great sense (not that the folks at the two companies need affirmation from this quarter).  But if one thinks in total system terms, they are only making use of two-thirds of the surface system capability.  They are using only one-half of the available high capacity, high efficiency modes.

If the maritime stakeholders make the effort to fix Federal policy and put the U.S. Flag in fighting trim it’s only a matter of time before a Hunt or a Schneider–or, yes, a CSX–will do a deal with, or acquire, a “Blue Water Transport”.   The press release will tout…

“a new deal that gives partners a platform to accelerate the transition of traditional  land mode traffic to cost effective, environmentally friendly intermodal transportation with service that is competitive with coastal corridor moves along the congested interstate highway.”

It will be the starting shot.   Pbea