Packages and products don’t move themselves – complex and innovative freight networks deliver goods to our doorstep and have created a competitive global economy. More efficient freight networks, including roads, rail, airports, ports, and more, lead to lower transportation costs for the many products and goods that make our way of life possible. There are some exciting advances taking place to prepare America’s infrastructure to move commerce within our borders and beyond, and that’s good because underinvesting and allowing the system to deteriorate could ultimately cost the U.S. economy $3.1 trillion in GDP and lost productivity by 2020.
The U.S. has more than more than 1.4 million rail cars and rail tracks that could circle the globe 13 times. Railroads have turned to advanced technologies to monitor the health of the 140,000 freight rail network and the equipment moving across it. Using technologies like ground-penetrating radar to detect issues beneath the tracks and wayside detectors to identify repair needs, railroads are taking a proactive monitoring strategy to improve the network’s reliability.
Looking to The Private Sector to Modernize Inland Waterways
America’s inland waterways are the hidden backbone of the freight network, carrying the equivalent of about 51 million truck trips each year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has responsibility over the inland waterway system, but lacks the necessary funding to finish the backlog of projects in its queue. Deferred maintenance has led to a high number of unscheduled lock closures and delays for barges moving imports and exports to market.
Recent federal legislation authorized a new pilot program that is hoping to leverage public-private partnerships (P3s) to move forward with projects more quickly. The assets would be leased to the private sector but would remain the property of the federal government, and operations and maintenance would remain under the oversight of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Tapping private sector capital and expertise has the potential to greatly improve the maintenance and repair of these aging yet critical assets for our freight network.
The historic Panama Canal expansion is poised to be complete in 2016, and that means “megaships” that could be up to 230 feet longer and over 50 feet wider than current vessels. They could also potentially carry over double the loads, up to 14,000 containers per ship. Several U.S. ports are taking steps to ensure they are able to accommodate this new reality of global commerce, and keep imports and exports flowing for the United States. Port modernization projects include deepening the harbors, enlisting heavier cranes with redesigned foundations, and providing more efficient freight connections to get goods to market.