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August 31st, 2009
America in Gridlock
[VIDEO] Keep on Trucking?

Blueprint America — with NOW on PBS — in a report with correspondent Miles O’Brien looks at the massive amount of freight moved throughout the country — mainly by trucks on an aging highway infrastructure that’s crumbling and bursting at the seams. With projected population growth and a rebounding economy, experts say it is only going to get worse.

So as Congress begins a major rewrite of the nation’s transportation laws, many are asking if it is time to redirect freight traffic off congested highways onto more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient railroads. Sounds good, but there is 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?

Freight yard in New Jersey

Though the competition for investment dollars is heating up, the two systems depend heavily on each other — a train hitched with 250 trailers needs 250 trucks to move that freight to its final destination.

To try and figure out who should pay the freight, O’Brien travels to a trucking school in Central New Jersey, where he learns to back up a big rig, to Bayonne, New Jersey, where massive amounts of consumer products come to port every day, and to Washington, DC, where transportation policies are under debate.

  • David Obermark

    Last time I checked, there were only 4 major rail companies that move the majority of the freight across this nation. Meanwhile the number of trucking companies numbers in six figures. The trucking industry is cutthroat in competition which is why rail can’t compete. Are you telling me the American taxpayer needs to subsidize monopolies?

    You interviewed a railroad employee who bragged about how efficient rail freight is. If it is so efficient, why does most of the freight go by truck?

  • James Pakala

    Some reasons trucks move much freight are: 1) RRs pay for their own tracks, maintenance, and real estate taxes on top of that, all along the line; 2) RRs pay employees more; 3) RRs have more work rules and pay higher wages; 4) RRs have more internal, governmental and cultural hamstrings from their much longer history than just about any other major industry; 5) both the Teamstears and the size of the trucking carry a huge amount of clout; 6) evils analogous to agri-business & hostile takeovers led to decimation of the mid-size RRs so we have a few huge RRs and a myriad of short lines, sometimes state-run branches, etc.; and 7) RR tracks were torn up where they should have been left intact, but unlike with trucks, less track mileage meant less taxes, maintenance, etc.

  • James A. Zumwalt

    I’m surprised the show didn’t cover a large part of the reason why our highways need work- 18 wheelers do over 80% of the damage to them; they’re just too heavy.

    Most freight goes by truck because their infrastructure is subsidized. Yes, their taxes are particularly high, but still do not pay for how much damage the trucks wrack up. Rail is so efficient that thus far they’ve managed to maintain their own infrastructure, even though at this point they need help.

  • Joe rimm

    I am a 3rd generation American involved in the transportation industry. Grandfather and Father in railway, and I’m in the trucking industry. Railroads are an economical solution, and there are still plenty of unused railroad right of ways to handle the rail traffic. It is going to take more of an investment into the rail infrastructure, and more efficient trailer drop off points to get the freight quickly to its destination.

  • Shani Strothers

    Allow trucks to piggyback on maglev trains over superhighway & abandoned rail right of ways. Make trucks self propelled railcars like the old freight trolley cars by installing a maglev undercarriage on each truck. In congestion, they can link for a stretch via intelligent transportation design.

    Reducing deisel fumes: Why not put recessed solar panels on the container roofs. Build hybrid trucks using that brake “heat”.

    To even the competion betw rail & trucks, tax trucks the real cost of their weight upon the highways.

  • Joe Dunst

    “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” I don’t know
    who coined this phrase…but it’s certainally true
    according to the competive nature of these two industries.

  • Mary Beck

    Why do we need to increase our trucking industry? The end of this video discusses the idea that we need to be able to increase our freight industry to be able to compete in the global market, yet we have seen the damage done by a globalized economy–especially the giant corporations in the United States. If we allow this infrastructure to grow simply for growth’s sake, we will be causing the destruction of hundreds of developing nations.

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