Rail analyst adjusts demand forecast
Previous projections showing a doubling of freight rail volume by 2035 will take five to eight years longer to materialize because of the recession, according to Lance Grenzeback, a senior vice president at Cambridge Systematics.
U.S. railroads have experienced a precipitous decline in business this year, with carloads down 18 percent and intermodal containers and trailers down 16.2 percent through the first three quarters.
The Massachusetts-based transportation planning consulting firm and the U.S. Department of Transportation in studies last decade concluded that freight tonnage would double in 30 years. Cambridge Systematics estimated in 2007 that railroads would need to invest $148 billion to expand rail infrastructure capacity to meet the future rail demand or else experience overcapacity and congestion on 30 percent of the rail miles on main transport corridors.
Adding intercity capacity on long-haul routes is much easier than in and around urban centers, Grenzeback said Sunday during a rail panel discussion at the Transportation Research Board’s annual mega-conference in Washington.
“Once we get into metro areas I think we’ll find it’s a very messy, expensive and time-consuming process, and we will not be able to build or restore capacity either for passenger rail or for freight nearly as quickly as people would anticipate,” he said, pointing to community concerns that make it difficult to obtain approvals.
Rail capacity will also be tested in coming years by greenhouse gas legislation that helps drive more truck traffic to the intermodal system, Grenzeback said.
“I think you’ll see a huge change in urban freight truck operations. I think they’ll move rather quickly to alternative fuels and engines,” while diesel engines will continue to be the primary mover of long-distance trucks because hybrids and other technologies are not as cost effective for highway applications, he predicted.
Long-haul motor carriers will instead shift more shipments to railroads to reduce their carbon footprints, he added. ' Eric Kulisch