7.7.17

FIRST, PRICE THE RESOURCES PROPERLY.

Trains correspondent George Hamlin contemplates striking the proper balance in freight transportation between motor trucks and intermodal trains.
For the trucks, double trailers (and triple, in some locations) provide an answer to the need for productivity: one driver is now responsible for more than a single truckload.  On the rail side of the equation, there is both the shedding of tare weight afforded by containerization and the ability to stack the containers two-high, although ... not all major rail routes are able to make use of this benefit, ...

From a purely cost-oriented perspective, rail has had a significant advantage.  Even in the days of piggyback, a two-person train crew could move many trailers; double-stacking literally doubled this advantage, for all practical purposes.  Trucks, on the other hand, have the upper hand when a moderately-sized shipment needs to be moved expeditiously from A to B.

No waiting for hundreds of other containers to be loaded onto intermodal platforms, and for the train to be assembled.  Multiply this times two when the stack train reaches its (rail) destination.  Yes, trucking costs more, but from a service perspective, it delivers, in a very real sense, from a service perspective.  And, cost notwithstanding, apparently many shippers are happy to make use of this alternative. 
That's long been the conventional wisdom in traffic allocation studies.  Rail has the advantage on longer hauls, particularly with larger shipments; motor trucks on shorter hauls, particularly with retail-sized shipments, and if you're Wal-Mart, retail size means hauling a few cartons shy of a load, the faster to unload and get back to the warehouse.  The usual partnership between the container liners, the railroads, and the motor trucks recognizes this, with the stack trains from quayside to a major container terminals, and drayage, often involving several hundreds of miles on the roads, from there.

It makes for some interesting speculation about, for instance, the use of railroad rights-of way as motorways for the retail truck deliveries.
In many areas, main lines have had multiple tracks reduced; the rights of way are still there.  Could some of this property be utilized for truck-only tollways that would produce revenues for the railroad owner?  Similarly, there are still locations where there are railroad rights of way in urban areas that might be useful in providing exclusive transportation corridors for local (pick-up and delivery) within cities.  In either case, this might also provide a venue for early adoption of “driverless” vehicles.

What about those no-longer-needed hump yards?  Couldn’t some of this real estate be re-purposed for something along the lines of intermodal/rail-to-truck transfer facilities and/or co-located warehousing and distribution enterprises?
All rather interesting, but it involves the motor carriers spending money, something they are notoriously unwilling to do.  It's fairly common knowledge that the employment practices of the warehouses and the big-box retailers skew to cheap and contingent labor, and the provisions of the so-called Affordable Care Act likely encouraged greater reliance thereupon.  But they still can't carry the truckers' lug wrenches when it comes to shifting the costs to others.  Those messages on the trailers about the most valuable asset sitting 65 feet ahead?  Pokhazhuka.  "Retailers and manufacturers rarely hire the truckers directly. Instead, they rely on a maze of subcontractors to move their goods and have paid little attention to who their direct vendors hire."

As is often the case, look closely, and you see good intentions gone awry.
In 2008, California sparked the labor problems at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by banning older trucks from entering the harbor.

Companies suddenly faced the prospect of replacing 16,000 aging big rigs with newer, cleaner trucks.

To avoid the $2.5 billion price tag, the port trucking industry launched a lease-to-own program that pushed the cost onto truckers, most of them independent contractors who had to cover their own expenses. Trucking companies arranged to finance their fleet, then passed on the cost of each truck to an individual driver.

It didn’t take long for retailers to embrace the extraordinary solution and then tout it publicly.
Yes, that looks a lot like the dodge by which a corporation fires staffers then hires them back as consultants, but typically those consultants are not obligated to buy the laptops or whatever tools of the trade they're using to keep doing the work they had been doing as employees.  The litigation goes on.

It is in the nature of the motor carriers, however, to expect others to pay for their assets.  They've gotten away with it where rights-of-way are concerned, for years.
Bill McCoshen, a lobbyist for [Wisconsin’s] DRIVE Coalition, a group representing business, tourism and agriculture interests that advocates for more funding for roads, said he was heartened by the truck fee discussion.

“Every credible study says our roads and bridges are some of the worst in the country, and the only way we’re going to address those is to generate new revenue,” McCoshen said.

If lawmakers don’t find more money for roads, it could mean delays to large highway projects under construction or scheduled for future construction.
To the motor carriers, though, such proposals, well, it's not quite starving children or pushing grandma off a cliff, but it's not desirable.

Never mind that it's more of the motor carrier interests, and the highway lobby more generally, participating in the grand fiction that they can live at the expense of everyone else.
Whether we like it or not, we have already created a road and bridge system in this country that is completely unsustainable with the current financial allocations.  As our roads and bridges crumble, our federal budget for repairs is less than 50% of what it needs to be to bring our roads back up to a safe and usable standard.  Most Americans have no clue what it costs to maintain a bridge, an 80,000 car-per-day highway, or even a city street.  I’ll clue you in, it’s really expensive.
And tens of thousands of people die.  Meanwhile, the money the motorists don't spend at the big box stores, they do spend repairing tires and suspensions; in addition they lose hours off their life stewing in traffic, particularly the construction delays that never lead to faster travel times.

Meanwhile, the railroads are hiring.  Check out these Dallas-area reporters geeking out over trains.



Union Pacific are working with local high schools and community colleges to bring in the next generation of rail professionals.

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