Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘marine highways’

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

Mapping the “Hidden Highway”

In Infrastructure, Marine Highway, New York Harbor on November 13, 2009 at 8:04 pm
NOS

Click for Audio

When someone talks about “keeping ships from turning into shipwrecks” we all probably could agree that’s a worthwhile use of tax dollars.

The fellow whose job it has been to map the coastal waters where ships ply the “hidden highway” is Captain Steve Barnum, who retired this year NOAA after 29 years.  He most recently headed NOAA’s Coast Survey, part of the National Ocean Service (NOS).

If you click the image above, you’ll hear him talk about the valuable service provided by the folks at NOS:

  • the country has “95,000 linear nautical miles of shoreline…3.4 square nautical miles of underwater territory” half of which was last mapped using “lead line soundings”…
  • mapping of the coastline is “a continual process”…many parts of the coastal regions remain uncharted…some data is as old as the Russian survey from when that country controlled Alaska
  • coastal surveys are also important for national security…military operations need accurate nautical charts…having a baseline makes it easier to reopen waterways after a national emergency
  • the MTS is the “hidden highway”…“hidden transportation system”
  • nautical charts are essential to the growth of the “efficient”  marine highway…making use of the “underutilized waterways” to get trucks off the road

The captain mistakenly refers to the Verrazano Bridge as an impediment for the increasingly larger ships–it’s the Bayonne Bridge, both being in the Port of New York-New Jersey–but he is right to highlight that commercial shipping is no different than other modes in needing adequate infrastructure and mapping.  In the case of  bridges, another NOS navigation system–PORTS–enables ship pilots to know the air draft under bridges in addition to better understanding available channel depth.  It’s just that when the highway is “hidden,” as the water routes are, it doesn’t get the attention–and the resources–that the dryways get.   Pbea

Ports on the Secretary’s To-Do List

In Federal Government, MTS Policy on November 8, 2009 at 11:49 pm

The DOT Secretary’s blog–Fast Lane–noted this past Thursday that “port managers have a difficult dual mission to fulfill-–providing the critical interface between water and surface transportation, while handling both commercial and military cargo.”  The prior day he met with the National Port Readiness Network, including some port representatives.

Secretary Ray LaHood acknowledged in his blog that that dual mission “is much easier said than done. ”  “And I get that only the commercial side of their mission provides the ports compensation.”  He said “DOT wants to do all we can to help them meet these obligations.”

Back in March when Secretary LaHood addressed the spring meeting of the American Association of Port Authorities he was asked from the floor what the new administration was thinking in the way of a freight policy.  The cabinet member said his department had yet to give it attention, that implementation of the stimulus package was USDOT’s  immediate focus, and toward the end of the year he may convene stakeholders to start to develop a perspective on freight.

It sounds like he is ready to act on that idea.  In recent weeks he indicated to Kurt Nagle of the AAPA that USDOT will call port directors together for purposes that include an examination of freight issues.  The plan is to have a meeting–perhaps in New Orleans–this coming January.

He noted in this blog of November 5th two action items–a “port summit” and “a Presidential initiative to integrate planning” with DHS.

The former appears to be focused on the port authorities–the public agencies with port jurisdiction.  A government to government conversation makes sense.   But will the Secretary at some point also enlist the private sector side of the ports–the terminal and vessel operators–in a confab to examine freight issues?  And will this be the start of a concerted effort in the Secretary’s office to develop an overdue Federal freight policy?

The latter is a reference to a $15M item in the current year budget–also in the Senate version of the DOT appropriations bill.  “This will help develop and modernize the freight infrastructure that links coastal and inland ports to highway and rail networks,” LaHood said in the blog.  We’ll have to wait and see how that  intention will materialize in actual projects.  Earlier this year MARAD folks said that some or all of it may be applied to marine highway initiatives.

We’ll see how these two items on the Secretary’s to-do list develop.  In the mean time it’s good to know that Secretary LaHood wants to listen to the ports and focus some resources on the MTS.   Pbea

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

Hours on the Road, Time on the Water

In Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on November 6, 2009 at 5:59 pm

The rules of the road will help define the market for marine highway services.   A prime example is the Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulation that limits the time truck drivers can spend behind the wheel.  These are excerpts from American Shipper of October 29, 2009.  (The links are mine.)

The U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Monday agreed to revisit rules on hours of service for truck drivers to resolve a lawsuit by safety advocacy groups and the Teamsters union.

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The hours-of-service rule allows drivers of commercial vehicles to drive up to 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. The rule also has a 14-hour maximum workday limit so that drivers have to clock off even if they haven’t driven all 11 of their allowed hours. And drivers must take a 34-hour break after being on the job seven or eight consecutive days.

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The trucking industry objected to the original changes five years ago, which added an extra hour to the maximum time behind the wheel but shortened the overall work day and the restart period, but has since adjusted to and supports the current rule.

Trucking companies comply with Federal requirements and adjust operations accordingly.  One adjustment may be in how they schedule drivers for long hauls.  If the daily allowable driving time is reduced under revised HOS regs then one response could be to substitute vessels for a long leg of the long haul.  Instead of dispatching a driver for the full trip put two drivers to work on the short hauls between the origin/destination points and the ports at either end.

The authors of “Operational Development of Marine Highways to Serve the U.S. Pacific Coast,” which recently appeared in the Transportation Research Record (September 2009), see that potential.

Marine highways are viable for longer routes such as those from California to the Pacific Northwest, where truck rates are higher and both distance and trucking hours-of-service regulations permit vessels to be time competitive at lower speeds. (from the abstract)

One of the authors is Ron Silva of Westar Transport, a California trucking firm that understands the operational benefits of  a transportation system that would make it possible for trucks to spend time on the water.   Pbea

Short Sea Grants on the Horizon

In Marine Highway on October 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

In 2007 Congress approved marine highways as a new policy direction in a measure signed into law by President George W. Bush.  The Secretary of Transportation “shall designate short sea transportation routes as extensions of the surface transportation system…” and is authorized to “designate” short sea transportation projects.

Yesterday President Barack Obama signed a bill containing an addition to the policy and program.   “The Secretary shall establish and implement a short sea transportation grant program to implement projects or components” of a designated project.

Originally sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) the grant provision was part of a Maritime Administration Authorization Act, subsequently folded into a Defense Department Authorization bill (see title XXXV) that went to the White House.

This is a welcome addition to the still new policy initiative to increase marine highway use in the United States.  It is a modest but important enhancement of the 2007 law.  Money gives meaning to policy.  Even if it is just $15 million, the amount that the Administration is prepared to spend if Congress were to appropriate it.   (The  Senate version of the still unresolved DOT appropriations bill contains funding.)  Indeed the Maritime Administration budget plan includes $15 million for each of  the next couple of years.

The new grant program is broadly writ.  To be eligible to apply for funding a project must be “financially viable” and demonstrate that “a market exists” for the project services.  The Federal grant could be no more than 80 percent of the cost for which the money would be used.  That use presumably would be to cover capital costs.  We will see how the Maritime Administration further defines the new grant program through regulation in the months ahead.   Before they do that  MARAD will finalize the rulemaking first published for comment in October 2008 regarding the designation of routes and projects.   Pbea

The Marine Highway Route to Climate Action

In Green Transportation, Marine Highway, Surface Transportation Policy on October 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm

BlogActionDayCall me silly, but I give benefit of the doubt to John McCain, Barack Obama, Al Gore (yes, him, too) and the slew of scientists who have convinced leaders around the globe that the time for action to address global warming is…yesterday.   (With such heavy stakes I’m betting on the smart guys–people of science.)

Closer to home, I trust people like marine biologist Marisa Guarinello, who on Sunday told me of her recent stint in Antarctica.  She witnessed the consequences of diminishing ice habitat and the effects on native species.

I also trust my gut, paunchy thing that it is.  I never expected in my lifetime to see terra-evolution.  From my early years in grammar school I learned, as we all did, about  the  Ice Age and other such periods that lasted over the course of  tens of thousands  of years.  When I see ongoing evidence of change (the Melting Age?) occurring in my lifetime it’s a bit unnerving.

Want an example?  How about the shrinking of the Arctic?  So much so that studies and early planning are underway for Arctic shipping routes as ice is reduced to being less of an obstacle.  I understand that there is opportunity in them thar high latitude shortcuts, but that opportunity has the look of silver lining an awfully dark cloud.

The Marine Transportation System can do more than take advantage of a disturbing, ecological change to Planet Earth.   It also can contribute to the reversal of GHG factors.

In fact the future of the MTS–the prospect for growth in maritime-centered mobility–is dependent on marine transportation being relevant in the Climate Change Era (CCE).

Our friends in USDOT might agree with that assertion.  They are preparing the administration’s view as to the next surface transportation policy.  Even as the policy is in development clear themes are being voiced by Secretary Ray LaHood and his team.  Sustainability.  Livability.  Mobility.

The Secretary sees the MTS as fitting neatly in that framework of principles.  He said marine transportation, specifically the development of the American Marine Highway (AMH), as transformational for the national transportation system.

Marine transportation is highly efficient.  It moves large volumes of  things using less fuel than  the other surface modes.  It has advantages from a GHG perspective.   However it isn’t a slam dunk for “Green Mode of the Year.”  But with the right investments it can do even better in contributing to our environmental and energy security.  Fuel switching.  Operational adjustments.  New technologies.

Government and the private sector have roles to play here.  Federal policy should aggressively foster both the use and greater advances in marine transportation.  Investments in technology, new equipment and AMH services by the private sector, or its public sponsors, should be rewarded.  Research should be supported.  Transportation policies in this CCE should be unified through the integration of modal policies and some programs.

Like it or not, change is happening.  There are implications for the Marine Transportation System.  Let’s make it work both for future generations and for the industry that supports millions of jobs.   Pbea

A Tale for a New Age

In Green Transportation, Surface Transportation Policy on October 8, 2009 at 5:18 pm

“My jolly body shall a story tell
And I will clink for you so merry a bell
That it shall waken all this company;
But it shall not be of philosophy,
Nor yet of physics, nor quaint terms of law;
There is but little latin in my maw.”
(from The Sailor’s Prologue by Chaucer)

Give the sailor a new story to tell.

For all of the new thinking that is going in transportation circles the maritime sector would appear to be an industry that lingers in the past.  We know that some companies are plotting real innovation.   The use of renewable energy, more efficient vessel designs, and replicating nationally the Alaska Marine Highway trailer trade.   We know that there are inherent efficiencies to hail and some companies would build on that.

But in the absence of an organized effort to tell how the industry and its skilled labor force is trending into a new age –and have virtues of particular relevance today–the outward appearance amounts to a familiar, 20th-century one.

Not so with the railroad industry.  The once Iron Horse now has the look of a low emission, high performance thoroughbred.  The appearance is a calculated one that to some degree is also deserved.  When new equipment is brought on line with green power plants there is no question about it.

“I have to say, the folks there have really turned out something cutting-edge. The NS 999 cranks out 1500 horsepower relying solely on rechargeable batteries. And, it releases no diesel exhaust emissions. None.”

Those aren’t words from some Norfolk Southern executive.  They’re from the USDOT Secretary’s blog.    The Class Ones have a story to tell and they’ve been telling it.  Good for them if the Transportation Secretary wants to join in.  (And why not?  The President likes to tout the new Detroit from the podium.)

What’s the maritime story?  One that will turn heads in Congress…that will prompt a sustainability-conscious president to urge more use of and investment in marine highways?  One that says our waterways are the nation’s past and future?

A maritime industry lobbying effort is in the works.  A collective “fly-in” (Washington lobbying lingo) by labor, business and ports is being organized for spring 2010.  What will be the message?  That the industry produces many great paying jobs?  That the maritime sector is important to the economy and our national security?  All factually correct and important to say.  But it’s an old–in some ways ho-hum–story.

It isn’t message enough when the government is tackling climate, energy, congestion and freight transportation issues, and will be setting policies and programs to last the next 5 years and more.  And it isn’t relevant enough when businesses, including customers of freight services, are developing strategies to bypass congestion, reduce fuel costs and carbon footprints, and earn EPA SmartWay credentials.

We are approaching fast the convergence of government policy and business imperatives.

It is no wonder that the railroads are projecting themselves–successfully so–as worthy of a hearty handshake from Al Gore.  Will the maritime sector also be ready and relevant?  Will the policy makers know why it makes sense to use marine transportation in this new age?  There’s only one way they will know.

Give the sailor a new and true story to tell.    Pbea

Say It Again, Solon

In Marine Highway, MTS Policy, Surface Transportation Policy on October 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Some things are worth repeating. Especially on the subject of putting our waterways and waterfront to greater productive use.

Here’s a for-instance — excerpts from a recent statement by Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the ranking minority member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, as submitted to the America’s Marine Highways website.

  • “As construction costs rise, and as the resources to address our growing infrastructure needs become stretched thinner by the day, it is…important that we use all of our transportation assets more wisely and effectively.
  • “I have advocated for the development of a national strategic transportation plan that considers our various modes of transportation as components of one comprehensive system, drawing on the strengths of each mode, rather than as separate unrelated transportation systems.
  • “The nation would clearly benefit from the greater use of coastwise trade on our nation’s marine highways as part of a national transportation strategy” …. “Marine highways are energy efficient and can yield positive environmental benefits.
  • “If waterborne routes are to be fully used, industry must develop new options that are better suited for moving higher value and more time-sensitive goods.
  • “However, there are still roadblocks that may limit the establishment of new waterborne transportation routes. Chief among these is the imposition of the Harbor Maintenance Tax on cargo carried by vessel between U.S. ports.
  • “Of course, all proposals to better use our transportation system faces challenges…. Financing ships without the commitment of cargo is not easy. Obtaining a commitment for cargo without existing ships and an established schedule is not easy. Financing and permitting for the expansion of port facilities is never a simple or easy task….  However, these are challenges we can and must overcome.”

John Mica is an influential Member of Congress who is playing a key role in the crafting of the replacement for SAFETEA-LU, along with his counterpart Chairman Jim Oberstar, another supporter of the marine highway.   Mica is one of a small number of legislators who has spoken in terms of national strategic transportation planning, modal components being of a single transportation system, and the importance of developing the marine highway…all in the context of surface transportation policy.

That’s worth repeating…and reading in full.  With any luck his colleagues of the House and Senate will listen.   Pbea

The MPO Role in AMH

In Marine Highway on September 26, 2009 at 10:34 pm

NYMTC

The Marine Highway effort took a big step forward,maybe three years ago, when former MARAD Administrator Sean Connaughton traveled to Little Rock for the annual meeting of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.  MPOs are the regional transportation planning entities responsible for developing Transportation Improvement Plans and selecting projects for Federal funding.  They consist of local government and transportation agencies including State DOTs.  The interest that an MPO shows in freight transportation depends on how well ports and other freight stakeholders engage their local MPO.

Connaughton, a former county official in Virginia, understood the role of MPOs and the Federal resources they have to support projects.  He knew also that most MPOs understood little or nothing about short sea shipping or most any form of marine transportation.  If transportation planners were to give consideration to coastal or inland shipping in addressing transportation needs they would first have to know it exists…and is relevant.

When MARAD later issued for comment the interim final rule for the America’s Marine Highway (AMH) program the notice effectively alerted transportation agencies that a new program was to begin.  Input was invited for the naming of marine highway corridors.  The response has brought to light many projects and a level of interest that previously had not been known.  (MARAD is expected to issue final rules for the program later this year and formally solicit project proposals early next year.)  Enter NYMTC.

An effort is underway by planners in the New York Metro region to gauge interest in the budding marine highway program.  NYMTC, the New York City and Long Island MPO, has scheduled a meeting for September 29th.  (See the “downloadable files” on the left menu of NYMTC site and find “America’s Marine Highways” on drop-down list.)   All are welcome to participate and one can view the meeting online.

According to Howie Mann of NYMTC the agency has reached out to neighboring MPOs–an important step because marine highway corridors inevitably extend beyond the limits of one or more MPOs.  Like the 64 Express project on the James River, undertaken by Barbara Nelson of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission since that Little Rock meeting, these steps by NYMTC will add to public and institutional understanding and should prove useful.

Note:  If you are curious to know more about reginoal transportation planning and the MPO role, here is a worthwhile read about The History of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.   Pbea