Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

‘Monster train’ and other freight supersizers

| August 17, 2010

You might have missed news of Union Pacific testing to see just how long a train can be. I didn’t know of it until reading a Wall Street Journal story this week. Writer Jennifer Levitz cites the train as an example of pressures in rail and ocean shipping, as well as trucking, to haul more freight per trip. The proponents in all three modes cite the potential for using less fuel, and thereby less pollution and lower costs for everyone.

As for UP’s so-called “monster train,” The Los Angeles Times account last January includes a video of it passing. It runs for more than 10 boring minutes, no surprise for a chain of cars that stretches for almost 3.5 miles.

The Journal presents a good recap of the current pushes for heavier trucks (Kraft, Coca-Cola Co. and other big companies) and for more doubles and triples (19 Western governors). It’s doubtful the truck initiatives efforts will go any further than they have in the past, given the strong safety lobby, which is a good thing. Highways are overcrowded in so many areas and getting worse. The benefits of heavier trucks don’t justify their safety consequences.

Furthermore, it’s doubtful that the savings of using heavier or longer trailers will translate into higher profits for owner-operators or company drivers, even though they are the ones who would have to handle them.