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Channel 19

Todd Dills

Learning to drive

| August 24, 2009

New York PBS station WNET correspondent Miles O’Brien (pictured, right) recently went through the motions of learning to drive a tractor-trailer at Shore Tractor-Trailer Training in New Jersey. He wasn’t out to probe the intricacies of training or the flood of new trainees from other industries in a down economy, though. His piece in the Blueprint America series, which airs this Friday on the NOW program on some PBS stations, is about the freight-movement prioritization debate over whether to continue public efforts toward maintaining and expanding highway infrastructure for trucks or to refocus efforts on rail capacity.

As the show’s producers put it: “…as Congress begins a major rewrite of the nation’s transportation laws, many are asking whether is it time to redirect freight traffic off congested highways onto more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient trains. Sounds good, but there’s a catch. Unlike highways that receive public funding, railroads are private. Should taxpayers sink public money into a private railway system? And where should the money come from–the
highway trust fund? Truckers who pay the lion’s share into that fund say, ‘No way.'”

Let’s hope O’Brien talked to some haulers who’ve long since graduated from the school of experience, not just second-career trucking aspirants and others just starting out. Tune in Friday to find out. The segment will also be viewable at the Blueprint America main site.

Photo courtesy WNET.ORG/Andy Fredericks.

  • Little David

    I understand society#39;s desire to shift more freight to rail and off of the highways. Trains can haul more ton miles for less fuel then trucks (and yes I am a trucker… independent contractor).br /br /However back during the Clinton economy, back when us truckers could not handle the demands of our economy#39;s freight hauling needs, many shippers tried rail. The result? The rail system couldn#39;t handle it either. The logjam kept the rail system from efficiently delivering freight for even existing customers. At least if you could find a truck to haul the freight, it got delivered /br /Since then, we have seen the retiring of many rail tracks. Increasingly, previous rail tracks are now becoming bicycle and hiking paths. If rail is going to offer competition to trucks, they need to expand, not contract.

  • Todd Dills

    Here here, David. I#39;m hoping to see this perspective in the Blueprint America show; the debate is whether to provide some sort of public support for rail infrastructure in the manner of what we do now with the highway trust fund. Hard to say, of course, where that would come from, if not from fuels taxes, which are collected primarily from travelers and haulers on the naiton#39;s roadways.

  • Little David

    Todd,br /br /Personally I do not have a problem if a sliver of the fuel taxes I pay as a truck driver go towards mass /br /I do have a problem with any portion of my taxes going to fund my direct competitors. Would we subsidize rail construction from taxes from trucking that the railway companies would have complete ownership of for example?br /br /This is a complicated subject, and I will admit that self interest and my concerns of personal solvency in the current economy affect my opinions. I wonder just how truthful others involved in the argument will be as willing to be as /br /If America invests money in the extremely consolidated rail industry, what guarantee is there that the industry will not use the money invested to rake the taxpayer over the coals?br /br /With the trucking industry the competition is so fierce that it is actually cut throat. The only thing right now holding the consolidated rail industry in check is the competition from the cut throat trucking industry.

  • Todd Dills

    David, Great points, all around. Was wondering if you could shoot me an email ( or give me a call (205-907-2481) — would like to get some of your thoughts here into the Channel 19 column in Overdrive. -Todd

  • Richard

    There are logistics problems with sending freight by rail . There can only be so many hubs to direct this freight to and no communities are going to want the congestion and pollution resulting from traffic going in and out of these hubs . br /I worked for a company that had a large portion of their business repairing intermodal trailers and container chassis . The damage done to these trailers while loading and unloading is unbelievable . The fact that this equpiment moves from railyard to railyard and never sees a terminal shop results in this equipment being poorly maintained .br /The real alternative to truckload and rail freight is cargo ships along the coasts and barges on inland waterways . These methods are far more efficient than rail .

  • Todd Dills

    Good points, Richard. It#39;d be interesting to explore the waterway movement of freight as a competitor to trucking in the future. If you know of any good sources for such, keep in touch.

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