National intermodal policy must drive rail plan, say educators

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In its comments on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “National Rail Plan,” prominent supply chain educators have taken issue with several objectives.

The Intermodal Transportation Institute and the National Center for Intermodal Transportation University of Denver maintains that a new NRP must be developed within the context of this overall, national transportation policy that addresses numerous, complex issues, such as a growing and increasingly mobile population and the requirements of moving goods through the supply chain in an increasingly competitive international marketplace.

“The infrastructure that such a policy requires should be based upon the inherent advantages offered by rail transport,” the report said.

Contributors to the reported also noted that the various networks of transportation in the United States—rail, water, air, and highway—have heretofore developed
separately.

“This has created tension among the four modes and
has limited their opportunities and decision-making capabilities for developing a truly intermodal transportation system that would take advantage of the respective strengths of each mode,” stated the report.

The report’s contributors added that the design and the development of a national transportation system must be driven by a strategic national transportation policy that is
founded in the concept of an integrated, cohesive, national
intermodal network, which also ensures that local entities and the private sector have as much control as is practically feasible.

That might be easier said than done, said some industry analysts.

“One of the most troubling obstacles to the ability of rail to keep up with demand is the growth of local resistance to railroad expansion both in the form of increase frequency on a line or the building of new facilities,” said William J. Rennicke, a partner in Oliver Wyman’s corporate finance practice.

In a recent interview with SCMR’s sister publication, Logistics Management, Rennicke observed that “not in my backyard (NIMBY)” resistance, law suits, local permitting issues and political pressure may create capacity shortages that might not have been expected by shippers.

“From Massachusetts to California, railroad expansion projects are being blocked,” he said. “Even in blighted areas of the rust belt, residents are blocking not only the rail facilities but shipper distribution and transload facilities


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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