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Peak Truck

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From Calculated Risk, we see this chart

This sure looks like peak truck (if not peak freight). We (in the US) have been plateaued for about half a decade, from before the recession. This tracks well with other evidence for peak travel.

The Traffic, She is Increasing


Calculated Risk: AAR: Rail Traffic increases in March: "The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reports carload traffic in March 2011 was up up 3.4% over March 2010 and 11.2% over March 2009, and intermodal traffic (using intermodal or shipping containers) was up 8.5% over March 2010 and up 21.6% over March 2009. "

(Via Calculated Risk.)


From Ars technica: Can we transport food like Internet data? Foodtubes says yes

Much of the world's food supply is transported via an inefficient, polluting, and dangerous system of highways and trucks. The overwhelming share of the fuel used to move food powers cumbersome vehicles, only eight percent is really needed to transport the cargoes themselves to supermarkets, according to one estimate.

So what's the alternative? Move the whole system underground and set up a "transport industry Internet," says the United Kingdom based Foodtubes Project, a consortium of academics, project planners, and engineers. Siphon veggies, corn flakes, cans of baked beans about in high-speed capsules (one by two meters) traveling through dedicated pipelines lodged below our cities. And why not? That's the way we transport water, oil, gas, and sewage, isn't it?

"All all conditions, day or night, delivery can be guaranteed," a Foodtubes PowerPoint presentation promises. "Whatever the weather, FOODTUBE will deliver the goods!"

I don't know why this is limited to foods, as opposed to any material goods. Of course it is reminiscent of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (written in 1887):

"I suppose so," said Edith, "but of course we have never known any other way. But, Mr. West, you must not fail to ask father to take you to the central warehouse some day, where they receive the orders from the different sample houses all over the city and parcel out and send the goods to their destinations. He took me there not long ago, and it was a wonderful sight. The system is certainly perfect; for example, over yonder in that sort of cage is the dispatching clerk. The orders, as they are taken by the different departments in the store, are sent by transmitters to him. His assistants sort them and enclose each class in a carrier-box by itself.

The dispatching clerk has a dozen pneumatic transmitters before him answering to the general classes of goods, each communicating with the corresponding department at the warehouse. He drops the box of orders into the tube it calls for, and in a few moments later it drops on the proper desk in the warehouse, together with all the orders of the same sort from the other sample stores. The orders are read over, recorded, and sent to be filled, like lightning. The filling I thought the most interesting part. Bales of cloth are placed on spindles and turned by machinery, and the cutter, who also has a machine, works right through one bale after another till exhausted, when another man takes his place; and it is the same with those who fill the orders in any other staple. The packages are then delivered by larger tubes to the city districts, and thence distributed to the houses. You may understand how quickly it is all done when I tell you that my order will probably be at home sooner than I could have carried it from here." Edward Bellamy (1887) Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (chapter 10, p.106)

I wrote a bit about Automated Freight Systems in
Published as: Zou, Xi and David Levinson (2005) Financing and Deploying Automated Freight Systems in The Future of Automated Freight Transport: Concepts, Design and Implementation. (ed. Rob Konings, Peter Nijkamp, Hugo Peimus) Edward Elgar pp. 227-242.

For the record, I am not a locovore.

Skylifter1.jpg Skylifter2.jpg

From KurzweilAI Skylifter airship could carry 150-ton buildings : ""

Australian company SkyLifter has designed a heavy-lifting, vertical ascent and descent aircraft that will operate as a practical flying crane. The aircraft is designed to take off where helicopters leave off, with vertical pickup and delivery capability of over-size, fragile or bulky items up to 150 tons, and potentially more. The long flight duration of 24 hours ensures a good distance range and adds flexibility to logistics. The aircraft can loiter over a ground location for long periods using minimal energy.

My colleague José Holguin-Veras at RPI recently completed a study on scheduling freight deliveries in New York City. The conclusion was not surprising to those in the field, there are gains to be had from scheduling deliveries outside the peak; surprisingly though, this is not done already (analogous to the economist's $10 bill lying in the street, but in this case a $1000/month check going uncollected). This is the result of coordination and principal/agent issues (it costs receivers more to receive off-peak), which information and appropriate pricing and incentives should be able to solve.

From one press release: NYC DOT Pilot Program Finds Economic Savings, Efficiencies For Truck Deliveries Made During Off-hours.

New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan today announced that a pilot program undertaken with the trucking industry found that trucks making off-hour deliveries between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. instead of at peak hours experienced fewer delays, easier parking, reduced congestion and significant savings for the 33 participating delivery companies and business locations receiving shipments. The study, the first that engages both delivery companies and businesses, also found that businesses overwhelmingly supported the benefits, with travel speeds improved as much as 75% and a sharp reduction in parking tickets and fines which exceeded $1,000 a month for each truck. Several participants continue to make off-hour deliveries and DOT is now developing ways to build upon this pilot. Joining the Commissioner was U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Administrator Peter Appel at a 14th Street location of Foot Locker, one of the retail participants in the study, as well as representatives from Sysco, Whole Foods Market and New Deal Logistics. ... More information on the Manhattan Off-Hour Deliveries Pilot can be found at

The project's premise is

Receivers, by virtue of being the carriers' customers, have a significant power in setting delivery times and, consequently, trucks' time of travel.

Carriers cannot switch operations to the off-hours, without receivers willing to accept Off-Hour Deliveries (OHD).

In equality of conditions, carriers will prefer to deliver during the off-hours because of the higher productivity and lower costs (even when paying prime wages to the crews).

The carriers' cost savings are not large enough to enable shipping cost discounts large enough to attract receivers to OHD.

Design Observer discusses All Those Numbers: Logistics, Territory and Walmart describing Wal-Mart's spread across the US, and the underlying logistics driving it. The total footprint of Wal-Mart's US stores is larger than Manhattan.

Continuing on thoughts on high speed rail, we get to the question of rights-of-way. Acquiring rights-of-way for new HSR corridors is likely to be expensive. The owners of the best rights-of-way are freight railroads. Of course many of those lines are used for freight travel.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway recently purchased BNSF for $28B.">Buffett Rides The Rails

Current market capitalizations for major US railroads are (from yahoo finance:
CP $9.7B
UNP $38B
NSC $22B
CSX $21B
KSU $3.8B

So these six RRs (assuming BNSF at $28B) could be purchased for a mere $122.5B. (Which is apparently nothing in the modern world of Washington, and less than the market value of Apple, Inc.)

Then, the good passenger tracks for both HSR and urban transit could be stripped, and the remainder of the RRs re-privatized for some large (but not quite as large) sum of money.

I posit this would be cheaper than negotiating for lines on an individual basis. To illustrate, the cost of merely running rights for the Northstar Commuter line on BNSF track for about 40 miles, plus paying BNSF to operate the train was $107.5M. This is not grade separated, and even more importantly, has to share tracks with freight, prohibiting high-speed operation. This is well less than 1/1000 of the scope of a national HSR network (which has been estimated at $2T), (though perhaps more than 1/1000 of the distance).

At any rate, if HSR advocates are serious, they should contemplate nationalizing the freight RRs, and stripping them of RoW rather than negotiating piecemeal.

Mind you, I do not think this is a good idea.

Evidence on economy

From TrafficWorld.Com

U.S. Air Cargo Falls 17 Percent

A collapse in trans-Pacific trade pushed cargo traffic for U.S. airlines down 17 percent in December, leading American carriers with their worst year for freight since 2001.

Class 8 Orders Drop 12 Percent

Total net orders for class 8 vehicles from all heavy truck manufacturers in North America dropped 12 percent in January, said an industry preliminary report.

Last month was the weakest January in the 30 years records have been kept, according to FTR Associates. The data includes the United States, Canada, Mexico and exports.

Net orders were down 66 percent from January 2008. Final data for January 2009 will be available from FTR later this month.

Traffic World OnLine - Rail & Intermodal

U.S. rail traffic fell 17.3 percent in the fourth week of 2009. Carloads were off 18.4 percent while intermodal loadings fell 16 percent. The Association of American Railroads estimated ton-miles decreased from 33.6 billion a year ago to 27.8 billion in the week ending Jan. 31.

Port Container Traffic Fell 8 Percent

U.S. ports surveyed handled 1.06 million TEU in December, the last month for which actual numbers are available. That was down 13.9 percent from November and 17.2 percent from December 2007, and made December the 18th month in a row to see a year-over-year decline. The last month to see a year-over-year increase was July 2007, when the 1.44 million TEU moved through the ports was up 3.4 percent from July 2006.

dematerialization of the news

It had to happen, it seems the CSM is the first major US newspaper to switch to web-only. Slowly things that can be dematerialized will be, and as matter shifts to energy, demand for transport will shift as well:

Christian Science Monitor shifts from print to Web-based strategy

Pirates seize tanks

Somali pirates want $20M ship ransom; crewman dies
As a heavily armed U.S. destroyer patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead Sunday, a Somali pirate spokesman told The Associated Press his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks.

The 20-Ton Packet

A nice article on container shipping by Stewart Taggart in 1999. Wired 7.10: The 20-Ton Packet

Instead of transportation being the metaphor for communications (the information superhighway, e.g.), here communication is the metaphor for transportation.

Another good source on container shipping is Marc Levinson's The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger , reviewed here.

The topic is summarized in The Transportation Experience in Chapter 16.

I have drafted a Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy.

The memo outlines ten visions, which are summarized here, for fuller discussion, see the full memo:

  1. Within eight years more cars sold in the United States will be powered primarily by electricity and bio-fuels than by fossil fuels. All buses and passenger trains will use electricity or bio-fuels.
  2. Within eight years Americans will be able to ride autonomous smart cars that drive themselves in mixed traffic.
  3. Within a year, an independent federally-funded Bridge Inspection Service will begin to inspect and publicly report on the quality of all bridges on the National Highway System.
  4. After thorough evaluation, within eight years, bridges and pavements on the US Interstate Highway System will be upgraded to handle trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds, increasing the efficiency of the trucking industry and by reducing the number of vehicle trips, increasing safety for other road users. These improvements will be paid for by the trucking industry, which directly benefits from the improved system. In heavily traveled corridors, a system of truck-only toll lanes will be constructed.
  5. Within eight years American travelers can choose to travel congestion-free by car or bus through America's largest metropolitan areas.
  6. Within four years American travelers will enter airports and transit, and train stations and cross borders, passing both security and immigration controls without delay while ensuring security.
  7. Within eight years a new source of transportation revenue based on time and place of use will be deployed, replacing the federal and state gas tax. This funding will support highway and transit networks.
  8. Returning to the vision of Democratic President Andrew Jackson, items in federal transportation legislation that do not serve a national purpose will be vetoed.
  9. Extending the bipartisan efforts of transportation deregulation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, within four years, highway and transit services and infrastructure will begin to be competitively provided by independent (public, private, or non-profit) organizations under appropriate local or federal oversight. Infrastructure will be provided under a public utility model, ensuring quality of service in exchange for earning a rate of return.
  10. Within one year, the United States federal government will establish separate capital and operating budgets. This will be coupled with a federal program to guarantee loans and bonds for highway and transit infrastructure projects.

  11. Full memo after the jump

Shipping Container Architecture


Via Boing-boing: Making Light: Shipping container architecture. A really nice post about the use of excess shipping containers for housing and other purposes. With the disproportionately one-way flow of containerized commodities from Asia to the US, there are a surplus of containers landing on US shores (most are of course shipped back), the post details a number of articles about their reuse.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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