Comment 119350

By Haveacow (registered) | Posted June 15, 2016 at 15:45:41

Having worked for a railway, assembling plans and car assignments for future freight trains trips and networked freight services, I can shed some clearing light on this debate. Yes, freight trains do move more by mass, volume and is better in efficiency (in theory) than trucks however, this does not mean a wholesale abandonment of highway based truck services in anyway should ever be considered, in fact, more road space for trucking is a must to make the whole national freight system work better.

  1. Our 2 Class 1 Railways, CN & CP (2 of only 7 left in North America) are designed to move very large amounts of freight either too dangerous and or too massive for roads or too far in distance to be affordable for both the road based shipper or the receiver of the cargo. This is why rail moves more than trucks in nearly every measure not because trains are necessarily better but to move the cargo's they are by truck is not affordable or practical, the huge scale of this kind of cargo delivery, tips any comparison of total national freight measure in favor of trains away from trucks.

  2. The economics of very large class 1 intercontinental railways make most short line distances (50-300 km) unaffordable. This is why we see so many new small class 2 or "Branchline" or regional freight railways popping up on abandoned, sold or leased out branchline railways that are no longer profitable for their larger class 1 owners. These railways must still however, stick to relatively large bulk quantities freight for single site deliveries to customers that are either very close or properties are on the line itself. Trucks do well also at this scale depending on the nature of the products and the number of total customers, locational distribution and quantities (usually many small to medium sized deliveries to multiple low density customer sites) of cargo.

  3. Trucks excel at moving medium and small quantity products (stuff that weighs less than 10 metric tonnes). Some branchlines can compete at distances smaller than 50 km but its because the customers is usually located on the rail line directly. Most everything else that is very light or requires multiple locations close by, make deliveries (within 50km) cheaper and more effective by truck. When trucks move cargo beyond 50 km the destination and number and spatial distribution of customers becomes important in whether it is affordable or not.

In fact, many railways have booming side businesses in multi mode container cargo transferring from rail to truck or truck to rail and direct transfer of truck trailers to and from freight trains. These types of container and trailer transfer is actually responsible for roughly 55% of all truck traffic on Canadian roads, that is not locally based freight delivery (within a city or city region).

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