Marine Transportation System

Posts Tagged ‘rail’

Will Ports Be Ready? (Part 2)

In Environment, Ports on September 15, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Will U.S. ports, especially those on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, be ready to operate in the changing domestic and international commercial environment? With major shifts on the way the ports that adequately prepare will be the ones to maintain and gain market share.  The change in environment—at local, national and global levels—will be a constant factor not easily addressed.

Environmental Concerns
From 2002 to 2007 many ports found it necessary to have a proactive environmental policy to get community approval to operate and expand.  Most major ports experienced double digit volume increases that resulted in problems with surrounding communities over increasing road congestion, noxious air emissions, and safety concerns.  In the San Pedro Bay ports communities voiced their anger to local politicians and in short order port projects were put on hold.

With the collapse of global trade, the pressure subsided as the number of containers and trucks decreased.  However, all indications suggest that world trade will rebound and cargo volumes will double by 2040.  Community concerns and political problems will re-emerge as well.  Other environmental issues may also emerge to affect port business practices—consumption of non-renewable resources, bio-hazards, and concerns about species redistribution that may persist even with ballast water regulation.  A proactive policy may again be a necessity for certain major ports if their environmental performance is seen as problematic for their neighbors.

Green house gases (GHG) are probably going to be the biggest environmental game changer for businesses as climate change policy is put in place and businesses calculate the added expense.  The U.S. contributes 20 percent of the world’s emissions from burning fossil fuels; India contributes 4 percent.  Will there be a carbon tax or cap and trade policy established worldwide?  What will be the cost penalty for oceanborne cargo here or worldwide?  How fast will engine room and terminal equipment technology adapt?  Those questions await answers and clarification.

As climate change concerns and political acceptance addressing those concerns increase, the pressures to aggressively address GHG will be enormous.  (That is likely notwithstanding the relative environmental and energy per-ton/mile efficiency of the marine and rail elements of MTS related transportation.)  These issues will have even greater impacts on the cost of ports, particularly if dealt with retroactively.

Next: Consumer demand and the bottom line.

T. H. Wakeman

Our Turn to Pay the Freight

In Infrastructure, Surface Transportation Policy on September 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm
PBS "Blueprint America" Documentary:  "Keep on Trucking?"

PBS "Blueprint America" Documentary: "Keep on Trucking?"

Blueprint America is the PBS infrastructure series.  The series is one of the best I have seen on the subject, not that there is much competition on TV in this category.  Keep on Trucking? has the virtue of being taped in my Garden State, where men are men and women are truck drivers who train the men.

The segment reported by Miles O’Brien covers our reliance on trucking and the 50+ year old interstate highway model.  He reports on the benefits and limitations of the rail freight system.  He covers how trucking and rail compete and cooperate (“the term of art is intermodal”).  He introduces community concerns via New Jersey’s Ironbound, which is adjacent to the Newark container terminals.  And O’Brien overlays the  fact that Congress will have to replace SAFETEA-LU and face the political conundrum of taxes, with Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) foot on the House accelerator.

Part of the value of this particular “…Trucking?” segment, as one individual awkwardly said, is the need “to look at the network of this nation as a whole” and “how these two modes can be interfaced in the most efficient way”.   “A freight relay if you will,” Miles O’Brien added, “… trains and trucks each doing the part of the job they do most economically, then passing the baton.”

Of course that topic deserves a 24-minute segment of its own…but not one limited only to two surface modes.

Predictably marine transportation was not mentioned.  Considering the key points made in the piece the marine highway should have been included in the “network of this nation.”  The water mode applies to the ideas of intermodal operation, efficiency, congestion mitigation, and the need to think outside the 1950s highway model.  As one voice noted, “it’s about retooling the freight infrastructure so American business can compete in the global marketplace.”  Not about maintaining the primacy of road and rail, one might add.

Miles O’Brien alluded to the fact that arriving at a new policy will not be easy.  “There is no love lost in the fight over infrastructure dollars.”  Bill Graves of the American Trucking Association asserted that the public shouldn’t be “deluded” that rail is “the answer”…the Association of American Railroads‘ ad campaign notwithstanding.

O’Brien expressed no particular confidence that Congress will adopt a new model.  He spoke of an American consumer trait, taking things for granted–“plentiful, high quality goods, delivered fast and cheap”–and made possible seemingly “like magic.”  Not willing to make it easy on voter or legislator, he said “it is actually about planning ahead and making big investments.”  The generation that built the interstate system did it.  “Now it may be our turn to pay the freight.”   Pbea

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