Sunday, April 23, 2006

MS DOT head: Intermodal "cancerous"

Kevin Jones: Tranportation planners get a huge dose of major issues facing trucking industry (article not online) The Trucker, Vol 19, No. 8 April 15-30, 2006

Among other statistics indicating the critical importance of trucking, [ATA Chairman Pat] Quinn emphasized the primary role truckers play in hauling the nation's freight — noting that other transportation modes don't even come close. Indeed with more than 80 percent of America's communities served exclusively by "taken for granted" trucks, no other mode has even the potential any time soon to provide solutions to the nation's growing freight issues.

And while intermodal rail is forecast to nearly double over the next 10 years, Quinn said that the intermodal rail share of domestic tonnage will still only be 2 percent.

And one transportation official anticipated just such matters.

Speaking in the conference's opening session, Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Larry L. "Butch" Brown referred to intermodal solutions as "cancerous".

Brown, who also serves on the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) board of directors and chairs the association's committee on ports and waterways, explained that discussions of river transport inevitably turned to railroads and to air freight in the Mid-South region. But the bottom line, he explained, is that what may be talked about as a solution to highway congestion — and a competitor for transportation funds — has just the opposite effect.

"The whole intermodal hub is driving an even bigger issue that's even more frightening," Brown said. "As big as it is and as fast as growing [sic], and as cancerous as it may be, intermodalism ... is making a bigger tumor and it's called highway infrastructure and we've got to deal with it."

Speaking afterward, Brown told The Trucker that his choice of words may have been inappropriate, but the idea behind it is sound: "Every time we do something [with intermodal planning], it works... but all it does is cause more movement. Instead of taking traffic off of the highways and putting it somewhere else, all we're doing is building a bigger need for the highways. Who's the largest user of rail service? The trucking industry."

It sounds like he may be a bit frustrated about the failure of America to use our waterways to full effect (which is reasonable). The problem is short a massive short line rebuilding program, rail (and waterway transport for that matter) do not have a good way to get cargo too and from small to medium shippers apart from trucks. He does have a point, though, intermodal does little where congestion is the worst—major urban centers. You still have a truck traveling on local roads to make a delivery, and perversely Sometimes chassis and container balancing issues can mean a truck has to travel to one urban railyard, then drop an empty container chassis, then bobtail across town to a second railyard and pick up the actual load which then goes on crowded urban streets to its destination, followed by a trip back to the railyard to return the empty container (and every time the truck enters and exits the railyard it is usually going to be idling for 10 minutes while it waits in line and then is inspected for damage).

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