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Rail, truck sectors readying for increase in freight traffic

Keywords: Tags  Panama Canal, Senate committee hearing, Ed Hamberger, American Association of Railroads, Philip Byrd, American Trucking Associations, port investment, capacity corinna petry

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 Associations.

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 canal’s expansion. But "there hasn’t 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 Jersey’s plans to raise the Bayonne Bridge, a $1-billion project that will provide larger vessels access to the port’s 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.

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