CHICAGO The rail and
trucking industries will be ready for any increase in freight
that could arrive at U.S. ports once the Panama Canal expansion
is complete, industry spokesmen told a Senate committee.
Panamax vessels are able to
carry 4,500 containers, but post-Panamax ships can carry 12,600
containers. The 140,000 miles of U.S. rails are prepared to
handle the additional capacity once the freight reaches shore,
Edward R. Hamberger, president and chief executive officer of
the Association of American Railroads, said during a Senate
Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing.
Although no one can predict
exactly where all the additional containers will land, ports
along the East Coast, Southeast and Gulf of Mexico are dredging
deeper channels, installing cranes, adding dock and warehouse
capacity, and improving links to roads and rail.
Wherever the extra freight
arrives, the rail industry is ready to provide the necessary
intermodal service, Hamberger said.
A note of caution was sounded by
Philip L. Byrd Sr., president of Bulldog Hiway Express, North
Charleston, S.C., and vice chairman of the American Trucking
Port investments and port and
intermodal traffic planning "are proceeding at a fever pace" as
players at every port think their facility will benefit from
the canals expansion. But "there hasnt been a high
degree of planning or coordination among ocean carriers,
domestic ports, state transportation departments, etc., as to
whether and where freight increases will actually occur," Byrd
said, so much of the investment is based on speculation.
Investments that could have a
negative impact should be avoided, he said, citing the Port
Authority of New York and New Jerseys plans to raise the
Bayonne Bridge, a $1-billion project that will provide larger
vessels access to the ports main container terminals.
The project will be financed in
part "by doubling truck tolls on port authority bridges and
tunnels," he said, but raising tolls "on the very trucks that
move port containers will likely make the port less competitive
and undercut the projected freight increases (that) justified
the expensive bridge project in the first place."
As for higher demand for trucks,
"we are aware of no systemic trucking capacity shortages
impacting freight movement at our ports," he said.