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Intermodal Connectors with Freight Movement, Analysis and Infrastructure

Paper type: Analysis
Pages: 8 (1797 words)
Categories: ,Society,Transport,Transportation
Downloads: 7
Views: 207

Today, policymakers are very concerned about the inflows and outflows of commerce at the U.S. cargo hubs. There appears to be a serious issue with flows and recent studies carried out by the Department of Transportation have found that freight transfer facilities are seriously afflicted with traffic bottlenecks and problems while attempting to access freight transfer facilities. One of the reasons with this is that the roads which provide the said access are in bad shape and their design is flawed: there is an inadequate turning radius at points of intersection, low clearances, limited shoulder width.

These roads in general serve very heavy traffic and their poor condition leads to problems in freight movement (Fritelli, 2003).

 Intermodal freight is basically the shipment of goods which use two or more modes of transportation, for e.g. road, rail, air and sea, from their point of origin to their destination and their transfer is acknowledged by a single bill of lading. To make the transfer between modes an easier process, containers used to ship intermodal freight are usually of one standard size.

The intention behind intermodalism was to enhance the overall speed and efficiency of the U.S. transportation system as this process employs the most optimal combination of modes, hence each mode is used for that part of the entire route for which it is best suited. All intermodal moves are usually begun and end with trucks, whether they are preceded or succeeded by railways, ships or aircrafts. Trucks are used because they are used as ‘doors’ to move the freight from the shipper’s warehouse to the seaport, airport, or rail terminal, or vice versa (Fritelli, 2003).

“Intermodal connectors” is the name given to the access roads to the freight terminals. By some, they are called “low hanging fruit,” the reason given for which is that they require comparatively less investment compared to the significant improvements they cause in the speed and reliability of freight movement. Intermodal connectors do not necessarily have to be roads; they can even be the railway lines leading to the terminals. These connectors serve the purpose of linking the entire intermodal transportation network (Rodrigue, 2006).

These are generally short portions of roads, their length typically not exceeding two miles. Usually, these are local, county or city streets. A majority of these connectors, especially those which lead the way to seaports, are found in relatively older, more industrialized areas and have a lot of at-grade rail crossings. These are crucial connecting points in the entire transmodal transportation system and because of their importance, are often referred to by the freight community as “front doors” (Fritelli, 2003).

The nation’s freight system is highly dependent on these intermodal connectors because they provide the critical link between modes and they ensure the seamless distribution of goods to users. They are vital components of the U.S. transportation network and facilitate the movement of goods within regions, across the U.S. and to/from other countries of the world. Their diverse function allows them to carry the entire range of commodities, be it highly valuable container shipments or low costing and ordinary goods which need to be moved in bulk quantities.

These items are of a varied nature: they could be raw materials for factories, supplies for hospitals or schools, items to be sold in retail outlets, overnight packages for businesses, agricultural products from farms, forests and orchards, or coal and petroleum products. Hence, movement of freight through these connectors is very important for daily activities, but one problem faced in this regard is that movement through trucks often conflicts with local vehicular traffic, and both entities have to share and compete for road space (Fritelli, 2003).

NHS intermodal connectors are critical components of the Nation’s freight system that tie modes together and facilitate distribution of products to users. They are key links integral to achieving a U.S. transportation system that will seamlessly move goods within regions, across the country and throughout the world.

Compared to the typical NHS route, which is mostly the Interstate and Principal Arterial, these streets which comprise intermodal connectors are designed so that they can carry lesser volume at lower speeds. But, they must also be able to handle the heavy load of large trucks which either move between terminals and the mainline NHS routes, or to other terminals to change between modes, i.e. from port to rail, or rail to sea (Rodrigue, 2006).

Hence, if the intermodal connectors are in bad shape, or have the deficient designs mentioned earlier, they hamper the seamless movement of goods, slow the process, damage the freight which is being transferred, bring efficiency levels and also make freight movement unsafe and hazardous. If, however, they are designed carefully, keeping in mind the requirements of their function, and subsequently maintained once they start operations, this will make a substantial difference in the efficiency of freight movement to and from the terminals (Rodrigue, 2006).

Reliability and predictability are two of the most important attributes which are sought by shippers when designing their supply chains, and intermodal connectors which are in poor condition bring these two factors down significantly. Today their condition is so weakened that according to an industry representative, the U.S. intermodal system is nothing more than “a network of conduits and pipes that is only as efficient as its ‘weakest link'” (Fritelli, 2003). Hence, if the nation’s transportation system is afflicted by this weak link, this will invariably lead to increased shipping costs, lowered productivity and competitiveness of U.S. businesses. Also, as idling trucks increase in number, so does energy consumption and air quality suffers (Fritelli, 2003).

From the initial events such as the deregulation of the trucking and railroad industries which triggered the growth of internodal container shipping in the 1980s, to today, when intermodal is an increasingly important source of revenue for modes such as railway: both domestic and international, intermodal contributes 20% of rail’s entire revenue, there have been improvements in the services of intermodal carriers. But business logistics of the present day and age demand even higher performance levels from them.

Retailers and manufacturers no longer want more frequent shipments but would rather hold large and costly inventories. Also, they have started outsourcing their production facilities to overseas locations where cheaper labor is available. “Just-in-time” is frequently used as a method of delivery, where carriers are used by manufacturers as ‘rolling warehouses’. As information technology innovations take place, developments such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) have facilitated intermodal’s growth by enabling easy exchange of information between the different modes at points of transfer (Fritelli, 2003).

Today, industry observers believe that the U.S. intermodal network is operating very close to its physical capacity. In coming times, intermodal connectors will need to adapt to changing distribution and logistics strategies and evolving technologies, equipments and vehicles. The entire freight industry is undergoing radical changes and these will impact the selection of routes and modes and the combinations of freight and vehicles over these connectors. Business practices are also changing and the enhanced quality requirements of these businesses has the potential to reshape freight transportation, combined with other factors mentioned earlier (Fritelli, 2003).

How do transport supply and demand functions vary for passengers, freight and information?

Transport supply denotes the capacity of the transportation infrastructures and modes which is usually expressed for a specific period of time and for a geographically defined transport system. Hence, the units used for measurement of transport supply are infrastructure (capacity), services (frequency) and networks. When quantified, or expressed in numbers, transport supply is expressed in terms of the number of passengers, volume (if liquids are being measured or for containers), or mass (for solid freight) that can be shipped or transported per unit of time and space (Rodrigue, 2006).

Transport demand is used to denote the transport needs, whether these needs are satisfied at all, or not at all, or satisfied partially. Just like transport supply, transport demand is also expressed in terms of the number of people, volume or tons per unit of time and space. A common way in which transport supply and demand is measured for passengers or freight is by using the passenger-km or passenger-mile (Rodrigue, 2006).

The passenger-km or –mile is a way of measuring the realized passenger transport demand as it compares the quantity of passengers who are transported with the distance over which they are transported. For the realized freight transport demand, the ton-km or ton-mile is used. While both these measures are used commonly in the case of realized demand, it can also be used for transport supply (Rodrigue, 2006).

For example, suppose that a Boeing 747-400 flight between New York and London has the capacity to transport 426 passengers over this distance of 5,500 kilometers, assuming the transit time is approximately 5 hours. In this scenario, the transport supply is about 2,343,000 passenger-kms.

However, the demand might be different from supply in reality: if demand is of 450 passengers on this flight that means transport demand of 2,465,000 passenger-km, even with the actual capacity of 426 passengers. In this case, there is excess demand or in other words, a shortfall of supply as demand exceeds supply. The realized demand, a subset of the actual demand, would be 426 passengers over 5,500 kilometers while the potential demand would be 450 passengers. The conclusion would be that this system is one where demand is at 105% of capacity (Rodrigue, 2006).

Basically, the economy is responsible for generating transport demand, that is, people, institutions, businesses and industries have certain requirements which lead to movements and transfer of people and goods. Patterns are created when these movements take place in space and give rise to added mobility and accessibility. Freight movement is deeply affected by external elements such as location of resources, factories, distribution centers and markets. There are two factors which act together or separately to impact transport demand. One is that either the quantity of goods or passengers increases. This can be because of a number of factors, such as increases in population, income, consumption and/or production.

The second is that the average distance over which passengers or freight is to be carried increases. Possible events which can generally lead to this trend are industrial relocation, economic specialization (causes related to globalization), and suburbanization. Both these factors are generally concomitant and result in increased transport demand, meaning more freight and passengers are being transported over longer distances. When freight has to be transported across countries, then freight transport demand is also affected by geographical factors and international transport costs and varies accordingly (Rodrigue, 2006).


Fritelli, J. (2003, May 7). Intermodal connectors: a method for improving transportation efficiency. Report for Congress [Electronic Version]. Retrieved November 12, 2007 from: http://digital.library.unt.edu/govdocs/crs/permalink/meta-crs-7711:1

Rodrigue, J-P. (2006). The Geography of Transport Systems. London, Routledge.

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Intermodal Connectors with Freight Movement, Analysis and Infrastructure. (2017, Mar 03). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/intermodal-connectors-with-freight-movement-analysis-and-infrastructure-essay

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