Truck vs. Rail

Trucking is never off the radar screen of the railroads. Even with the Assn. of American Railroads (AAR) pointing out that “The domestic share of intermodal traffic has been rising in recent years” and that total U.S. truck-rail intermodal volume in 2013 set “a record of 12.8-million containers and trailers,” outside the hallowed intermodal zone of cooperation, the decades-long war between railroads and motor carriers over freight supremacy rages on.

That’s evident in the battle heating up over truck size/weight reform in the upcoming 114th Congress. With Republicans set to take control of Capitol Hill in January, trucking interests are hopeful that the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) will finally become law as an amendment to the next highway-reauthorization bill.

With that progressive legislation at stake, John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity (CTP), which lobbies for SETA passage, wants to make truckers and shippers aware of what CRP terms “a continual effort by the railroads to disparage the legislation, even as shippers face capacity challenges and the railroads themselves struggle to meet demand.”

[ Truck vs. Rail: Regarding the latest battle in that never-ending war, the Coalition for Transportation Productivity is urging shippers to insist that "railroads focus on improving rail service, not blocking truck productivity improvements" contained within pending Federal truck size/weight reform legislation. ]


Runyan makes his case forcefully in a commentary titled “How Trucking Can Ease the U.S. Capacity Crunch,” which was recently posted online by The Journal of Commerce.

“While all major railroads have been assuring shippers that they are working as hard as they can to add capacity and reduce bottlenecks, they are directing substantial resources to block congressional proposals that would improve trucking industry productivity,” Runyan argues in the piece.

He describes the rails’ opposition to SETA as “fierce and consistent,” even though the measure “would help shippers address the capacity crisis by giving each state the option to raise truck weight limits on appropriate portions of its interstate highways, but only for trucks equipped with a sixth axle.”

Runyan notes that the added axle distributes weight to the pavement more evenly to further safety and that  DOT is at work on a truck size-and-weight study that will provide stakeholders with  “input as to where heavier, six-axle trucks are appropriate.”

He contends that even though “any truck weight reform proposal in next year’s highway bill will be informed by the DOT study, shippers have reason to expect the railroads will escalate their war on trucking, endeavoring to block any and all truck weight productivity improvements.”

Conceding that railroad opposition to rules allowing more productive trucks “in normal times might be seen as just another self-interest looking out for its own pricing power,” Runyan emphasizes that “normal” is not the current reality.

Indeed, he states that “the current transportation capacity crunch, if left unchecked, could have a hugely negative economic impact. Railroads should be doing all they can to improve their own performance and not spending significant resources to obstruct increased productivity in the movement of goods already moving by truck.”

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