Trucks leave the container terminal at the Port of Los Angeles.
Congestion in the nation’s transportation system is hardly limited to insufficient roadways. Problems with the other major modes of commercial transport, rail and water, have created increasing delays for the truckers who serve intermodal sites.
Since the early 1980’s, post-regulation mergers and reorganizations have cut rail system mileage to 172,000 miles, half of what it was earlier in the century, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Big companies also unloaded their small lines, churning them into mom-and-pop operations that can’t afford track upkeep, much less expansions, says Gil Carmichael, senior chairman of the Intermodal Transportation Institute at the University of Denver and a former head of the Federal Railway Administration.
“Railroads spend about five times more to maintain rail lines and equipment than the average U.S. manufacturing industry spends on plants and equipment,” states a report by the AASHTO Standing Committee on Rail Transportation. U.S. Class I freight railroads will spend more than $8.3 billion this year laying new track, buying new equipment and improving infrastructure, says the Association of American Railroads.
Waterways are aging, too. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates the median age of lock chambers is 45 years old. Yet adequate funding to replace those chambers has not been made available. Lock-specific malfunctions often last up to six hours or longer at heavy traffic areas.
Port and rail delays put receiving trucks behind schedule, too. Just ask owner-operator Kristie Hruby, who regularly travels to Los Angeles, New York and Chicago to pick up military freight.
Arriving at the city of Commerce rail yard, just outside Los Angeles, collecting her load and leaving in a timely manner is the stuff of fantasy in Hruby’s world. The reality is that she and other truckers often wait up to 18 hours for loads. She faces similar delays at the City of Industry and Anaheim yards.
“The checkpoints get backed up, and when they get backed up, everybody gets backed up,” Hruby says. “Most of the time, I can make up a delay