The following is taken from a speech delivered by Gilbert E. Carmichael, Senior Chairman, Intermodal Transportation Institute University of Denver and United States Federal Railroad Administrator (1989-1993) before The Transportation Table in Washington, DC on March 23, 2007:
On most occasions when I speak about intermodal transportation, I devote an extensive portion of my remarks simply providing a basic orientation. This audience does not require such coddling. You all grasp the fundamentals. Many of you are experts.
You understand that freight transportation has undergone a revolution during the past quarter-century and that intermodal is now the global standard for moving freight. You also understand how it succeeds—interconnections ’ containerization ’ speed ‘safety’reliable scheduling ‘economic and fuel efficiency’and marshalling the strengths of each individual mode, while avoiding modal weaknesses. We are looking at a new science of transportation.
Yes—- this intermodal system works. It continues to grow. Its future success will hinge partly upon our ability to further improve the routes and terminals that enable it to function in the manner desired. However, although a revolution in freight transportation has taken place, the general public is unaware of it. Most public officials and opinion leaders don’t even know the intermodal system exists! It may be unreasonable to think that the average citizen will get excited about such matters, but ignorance on the part of our public officials and opinion leaders has consequences! Ignorance about transportation in general’and intermodal in particular’has placed government at all levels ‘well behind the curve’ in thinking and acting on a wide range of transportation issues. During our intermodal revolution they sat on the sidelines for 25 years.
By tradition, government agencies concentrate on each mode’s infrastructure. Highway agencies build and maintain roads. Airport authorities build and maintain airports. Government provides grants to these and other systems—-urban transit and Amtrak, for example—-to offset operating deficits, meet capital needs, and help upgrade the infrastructure they use. Several things are wrong with this historical arrangement.
For one thing it leads to one-dimensional thinking. Federal and state governments concentrate on infrastructure, but don’t pay much attention to how it is actually used’or where the most promising opportunities exist. Freight’s intermodal network, on the other hand, has succeeded because it is customer-driven. Our ‘infrastructure mentality’ also causes government to view the modes in isolation, yet the intermodal system prospers by efficiently unifying them horizontally.
Among public officials at all levels of government—-including many people in transportation agencies—-the ignorance of freight transportation is almost universal. Some regional planning agencies have written transportation plans which devote more attention to bicycle paths than to freight transportation. We must remember that for every passenger moving on America’s transportation system, a ton of freight is moving.
Ignorance about freight leads to bad decisions and missed opportunities. Nearly all recent progress and innovation in U.S. transportation has come in the freight area. Nearly all of those gains are attributable to action and investment by the private sector—-not government. I believe that freight will continue to be the category in which we achieve the most impressive gains. The ship, train and truck have found each other!
Unfortunately, government is heavily involved in passenger policy. Government has resisted reform and modernization. We desperately need an intermodal systems approach to passenger service. In this regard we are 20 years behind the freight industry. The plane, train, and intercity bus must find each other!
Finally this obsolete focus on individual modes and individual modal infrastructure, coupled with a lack of knowledge about customers and m