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The wall street Journal When Kraft Foods Inc. packs trucks with weighty items such as Jars of Miracle Whip and pouches of Capri Sun Juice, 40% of the rigs must leave the loading dock partly empty to avoid exceeding federal truck weight limits.
Kraft says those rules force it and others to ake extra trips and spend more on fuel.
Now, the Illinois food giant is part of a coalition of 1 50 companies lobbying Congress to allow trucks that are 20% heavier on U. S. highways. Supporters of the idea say truckers could pay an extra fee to offset road repairs. Some 19 Western governors wants Congress to allow for more giant trailers, like this “triple” tractor trailer.
There is an arms race of sorts in the shipping industry”and it is prompting a backlash.
Efforts are under way to supersize trucks, trains, and cargo ships as freight haulers look to move more goods in fewer trips. Driving the trend are rising fuel costs, an emphasis on reducing carbon footprints and capacity constraints created during the recession as freight movers scaled down, said Paul Bingham, managing director of transportation markets for the research firm IHS Global Insights. Road-safety officials say rigs are big enough now. “It’s insane,” said Deputy Chris Rizzo, a truck inspector for Loudon County, Va.
, of efforts to increase the weight limits set by Congress in 1974. l can actually feel bridges bouncing up and down” when trucks go over them, he said. “The heavier the truck, he more the bridge bounces. ” Earlier this year, California safety regulators were alarmed when a record-setting, 3. 4-mile train”two to three times the length of a typical freight train”rolled through Southern California. Witnesses dubbed it “the monster train” and posted videos online.
It turned out to be a test by Union Pacific Corp. , which increased the length of its intermodal trains 15% in the first quarter, and was experimenting with an even longer train.
Richard Clark, director of safety for the California Public Utilities Commission, said there was no notice of the xperimental train, and the agency didn’t realize it would be that long. “We were surprised,” he said. Longer trains raise concerns about blocked rail crossings, especially when emergency vehicles need to cross tracks, and about whether trains can safely make turns, he said. A Union Pacific spokesman said the company did make required federal notifications but “in hindsight, we probably should have made the courtesy call” to state agencies also.
Union Pacific said the ultra-long train was a one-time test. But in an April earnings conference call, a company official said Union Pacific believes it can increase its average train length by another 10% to 15% in an effort to reduce fuel use and emissions as well as wear and tear on its tracks. Other railroads, including CSX Corp. , and BNSF Railway Co. , have also been running longer trains to improve efficiencies, these companies said. The big rigs that cruise the nation’s roadways may be getting not only heavier but longer.
Separately from the and MillerCoors, a group of 19 Western governors are lobbying Congress to allow for more “doubles” and “triples””multiple trailers hitched together than can span up to 20 feet”on Western highways. Currently, most interstates allow rigs no longer than 53 feet. In general, states can individually set limits on truck size and weight on state roads, but not for federal highways. The Western Governors’ Association says longer trucks would make it easier to haul goods across vast distances in the West, which could benefit the region economically.
Doubles and triples typically have to bypass federal roads and stick to state roads, sometimes forcing them to take longer routes to their destination. The governors’ group estimates that miles traveled by heavy rucks could be cut by 25% with the use of more combos.
Meanwhile, new cargo vessels as long as three football fields now ply the oceans and are expected to be frequent visitors to Eastern U. S. ports starting in 2014, with the completion of the widening of the Panama Canal, the primary shipping conduit between Asia and the East Coast. They are almost 25% longer and 35% wider than today’s ships that use Eastern ports.
Ports such as Savannah, Ga. , are starting to deepen channels in preparation, though residents arent as eager.
“Horrifying, really, really horrifying,” Toby Bronstein, a retired advertising executive who lives in Caswell Beach, N. C. , said of the ships. “They defy the imagination in terms of their size. ” Ms. Bronstein and other residents say the giant ships could change the character of coastal towns that rely on tourism.
Ms. Bronstein and neighbors in coastal North Carolina recently successfully fought a megaport proposed for Southport, a city of 2,500 people.