On the highways and byways

A few weeks ago, I took a little road trip from Philadelphia to Chicago and back over the course of a long weekend. As you would have discovered if you mapped the trip, it’s a journey of some 800+ miles one way. It certainly was a long drive, but one that I enjoyed, even though the return journey was a bit tough on my suffering back.

The way freight moves

As the miles sped past down I-76 and then onto I-80, I was surprised by the sheer number of big trucks on the road. They filled the far right lanes on each side of the central reservation. They were stacked deep at the rest areas along the highway. They were parked in the lay-bys, presumably as their drivers caught a few hours of rest.

It was only my return journey back to Philly that I started to get a more accurate picture of just how many trucks — and trucking companies — there are on the roads. I encountered truck after truck from the likes of Werner, North American, Allied, Crete and England. Then there were all the semi-tracker trailers that the likes of Walmart have on the road. It was pretty amazing to think about: how many lorries are involved in moving freight across the US?

Where do the rails fit in?

It wasn’t too long ago that the investment genius that is Warren Buffet invested a significant number of dollars in the purchase of Burlington Northern, a rail freight company. Since that purchase, another rail company, CSX, has run a number of savvy television adverts promoting rail-transport as an environmentally friendly alternative to road-freight.

It will be interesting to watch the competition heat up between rail and freight in the coming months. I am especially eager to see how the environmental arguments and sales pitches develop, even more so now in light of the Deepwater Horizon debacle.

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