Senate intermodal transport hearing addresses trucking issues

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 2/28/2019

The Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety heard from stakeholders on Tuesday, Feb. 26, about intermodal surface transportation markets and infrastructure. Several trucking-specific issues popped up, including size and weight, hours of service and “street turns.”

Trains, ships and trucks were the focus of a Transportation and Safety subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, as Senate members heard from four witnesses representing intermodal transportation:

  • Chuck Baker, president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
  • Noel Hacegaba, deputy executive director of administration and operations at the Port of Long Beach, representing the Intermodal Association of North America.
  • Donna Lemm, executive vice president of IMC Cos., representing the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.
  • Joseph C. Szabo, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, representing the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors.

Although the trucking industry was not represented exclusively by any of the witnesses, topics directly related to trucking were.

Size and weight

In his written statement to the subcommittee, Chuck Baker pointed out that an infrastructure bill is an opportunity for proponents of increasing truck size and weight to get their way. Baker cautioned the senators about including any such language.

“Bigger trucks mean diversion from rail to truck and thus more expensive damage to our highways and bridges, more highway congestion, more environmental damage, and more danger for the motoring public,” Baker said. “The biggest hurdle to enacting new infrastructure funding legislation is finding the funding. Including a provision that guarantees higher infrastructure repair costs makes the hurdle all the more difficult to overcome, and that just doesn’t make sense.”

Baker also warned the senators that those who favor larger trucks have attempted to include provisions through appropriations bills. If Congress considers increasing truck size, Baker argued, it should be done through thorough vetting by the appropriate committee. Previous attempts in the past to increase truck size have failed.

In a letter to Congress sent last week, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and a dozen other groups urged lawmakers to oppose legislation that will increase truck size and weight. The coalition also cited increased damage to local roads and bridges as support for its argument.

However, Donna Lemm suggested increasing truck weights to levels compatible with the rest world to solve port congestion.

Port congestion

A topic during the hearing was the issue of congestion at the nation’s ports. Witnesses highlighted the problem and offered some solutions.

In her statement, Lemm said that truckers are waiting in line two and six hours for a variety reasons, including volume, congestion and ramp equipment breakdowns. Consequently, truckers are getting less loads per driver per day, which negatively impacts all modes downstream.

Lemm also addressed what is known as “street turns.” A street turn is the process of taking an empty container and chassis owned by an ocean carrier after unloading and using it to backhaul freight near the location the ocean carrier wants the trucker to drop off the empty container and chassis. Ocean carriers are charging truckers anywhere from $30 to $75 for doing street turns.

“The fees imposed on street turns injures all, including the carriers themselves, by adding to congestion and delay, which already makes marine terminals at some of our largest ports the greatest challenge to the U.S. export/import supply chain,” Lemm stated. “Penalizing street turns threatens one of the only measures available to shippers, carriers, terminals, truckers to address the unending congestion.”

Lemm suggested eliminating these fees because they are increasing the number of trucks and emissions.

Noel Hacegaba said that using technology is helping with port congestion. Hacegaba mentioned that some ports are pairing “predictive analytics” with terminal truck appointment systems.

“Such systems allow trucking companies to schedule appointments for container pick-up up to five days before a ship arrives at the terminal,” Hacegaba said. “This advanced visibility enables terminals and trucking companies to optimize their operations.”

Federal regulations

Chairwoman Deb Fischer brought up federal hours-of-service regulations during the hearing. Fischer said that hours of service flexibility has been important for egg and livestock haulers, who have been allowed exemptions. Outside of those exemptions, hours of service was not discussed in the context of the trucking industry as a whole.

Speaking more broadly about government regulations, Baker discussed the direct impact regulations have on the intermodal industries. Much like the trucking industry, Baker said the short line railroad industry is burdened with “unnecessary and expensive regulations” that take away money that can be used for infrastructure improvements.

“Most damaging for short lines are the kind of one-size-fits-all regulations that provide no basis for the presumed benefits and that don’t take into consideration our unique operating characteristics,” Baker said.

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