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Rail News: Intermodal

Congress, freight-transportation industry need to address capacity constraints, ITI's Finkbiner says


Problems with the nation's freight-hauling infrastructure capacity are worsening and need to be addressed immediately, said Thomas Finkbiner, chairman of University of Denver's Intermodal Transportation Institute (ITI), in a statement released Sept. 26.

Three critical problem areas are congestion on key highways, crowded freight-rail mainlines, and access and transit difficulties at ports, terminals and major transportation hubs, said Finkbiner, who serves as chairman, president and chief executive officer of truckload carrier Quality Distribution Inc.

Two contributing problems are the interstate highway system, which has enabled trucks to dominate modal share, and railroads that successfully downsized ahead of their traffic base.

"What has not changed is that steel wheel on steel rail is still the most efficient form of long-haul transportation for bulk commodities or large shipments," said Finkbiner. "But most freight in North America travels less than 50 miles, which is not conducive to rail."

Cost estimates vary to improve and expand the nation's freight-hauling infrastructure. According to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' "2003 Bottom Line Report," the nation will require $3 trillion in additional highway investment if trucks carried all freight and $300 billion if railroads moved all shipments.

"An investment difference on the order of a factor of 10 — or even half that level — provides a compelling case for improving the rail network's capacity to handle increased traffic," said Finkbiner.

ITI believes Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century reauthorization legislation should include funding to address freight-capacity needs. The institute is conducting a study and discussing proposals with key industry officials to determine policy recommendations, which ITI expects to release in early 2004, Finkbiner said.

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More News from 9/29/2003