Rail and the Future of International Shipping

Posted : 11/19/12 12:38 PM

Since railroads offer the cheapest method for transporting goods over land and ships are the most economical form of transit by sea, it is only natural for the two systems to become increasingly intertwined within the ongoing expansion of global trade. A similar connection is to be found between rail transport and truck transport. Both developments key to advances in communications assisted by computers, cell phones, and other mobile devices. All work together to make for a smooth transition flow that allows goods to more readily reach their destinations. While ships may move at slow speeds over long distance, the fact that much of their cargo now moves by container means that goods can be moved around the world in the same relative amount of time that they were moved nationwide, in the case of the United States just a few decades ago. It isn’t so much that the ships have sped up, though they are moving about twenty percent faster than they used to, but because merchandise no longer sits around a warehouse so long waiting to be sorted out before moving out to market. Containers have markedly decreased the time goods spend being warehoused, both in transit by ship and rail. The overall effect of this is that an item now can move from the product’s maker in Shanghai to the shelf of a store in Chicago faster than it might take it to go from Long Beach, California to Chicago in the 1970’s. The item is still stopping at the port of Long Beach today, but now it gets loaded directly onto a train heading for Chicago. That container can then be hauled by truck right to the store, eliminating the need for a warehouse at some point. Orders such as this are now processed by computers, which have allowed railroads and ships to become much more efficient in transporting the inventory from manufacturers to vendors. Large rail yards where hundreds of cars lie on dozens of tracks have become far more controlled settings. Much less time now has to be spent searching for which cars to string together to send to a particular destination. The long line of cars connected with trains represents considerable savings in fuel and labor costs over sending the material by truck. Ships of ever growing size offer proportionately large savings. With cost containment becoming an increasing concern due to global competitiveness, rail and international shipping will continue to intertwine and expand.