From the Highways to the Railways: Intermodal Freight Movement

Posted : 01/24/13 1:27 AM

The means for shipping freight is affected by expediency and operating costs and other factors as well. One mode of freight shipping over the other; rail versus truck freight movement, would not be an acceptable contrast to make when Intermodal solutions, integrating the trucking and railway industries, is the most beneficial shipping option. Truck Operational Costs: Diesel Fuel Rules Over the road (OTR) transportation has been the most expensive shipping mode for more than 40 years. Even as trucks continue to move most of the nation’s freight, the trucking industry has been rocked with steadily rising diesel fuel prices over the last five years. Major trucking companies have cut their over-the-road capacity considerably, as they are enacting truck-to-rail freight shipping alternatives while some smaller trucking companies, having maybe a fleet of ten trucks on the road, are going out of business. For one commercial truck, the cost of fuel—39% of the total operating cost—is the largest operating expense in the trucking business, with driver salaries being the second largest. Trucking companies are slow-walking their hauls to save fuel. Owner/operators in the business say slowing a tractor-trailer rig down to 65 mph from 75 mph increases fuel mileage by over a mile a gallon, which is to be considered with long-haul shipments of over 500 miles and load weights of 50,000 lbs or more. A rig that is sitting idle easily burns about a gallon per hour of fuel. Railroad Infrastructure Steadily Coming Online Rail freight shipping is big business; conducive to heavy equipment hauls, bulky commodities and HAZMAT shipments. The U.S. Department of Transportation has forecasted an 88% freight volume increase of 37.2 billion tons, on more than 52,000 miles of the nation’s railroads by 2035. To keep up with the growing demands of freight movement, railway systems capital investment encompasses short line improvements, rail safety needs and rail infrastructure repair, maintenance, and improvements. The investment cost estimation over a 20-year period could be around $195 billion. The Best of Both as Major Truck Carriers Employ Intermodal Solutions: J.B. Hunt In the late 1980s, J.B. Hunt contracted with Burling/Northern/Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad Company, effectively integrating Intermodal shipping as an asset to its business. The J.B. Hunt/BNSF Intermodal freight solution began with 150 trailers and five railcars moving freight between Chicago and California. The JBI segment operates its equipment linehauls from point of origin to destination rail terminals; then moving shipments from the rail terminals and making deliveries to its customers (drayage). Moving over 50,000 containers on the rails today, JBI is the largest facet of the company’s business.