Monday, May 21, 2012

Transport Infrastructure - the Big Stumbling Block for the Freight and Logistics Industry

If the USA Struggles to Stay Ahead of the Game What Hope for the Rest?
Shipping News Feature

US – Those outside the country often view the USA as a hotbed of activity where the go ahead attitude means that problems are tackled head on and little things like problems on the highways and transport routes are swiftly solved by applying common sense and apparently limitless funds to resolve the situation. In the UK for example road haulage and freight interests often bemoan the slow pace of infrastructure development and the lack of funds available.

The truth it seems is often somewhat different, for all their faults the British have attacked many of the problems with their transport infrastructure, spending public money to widen key roads like the M25 motorway whilst utilising sometimes controversial private or PPP funding to increase capacity on freight rail routes, construct multimodal terminals, develop existing and new ports and container facilities and even dipping the country’s toe in the neglected waters that make up Britain’s inland waterway network.

Funding to promote the Olympic tournaments has seen many structural improvements in areas of East London that otherwise may have descended further into disrepair and even the canal network has had its part to play in the ongoing developments together with works required for the Crossrail project although, as we pointed out when comparing British and US inland waterways in a previous article, only in London has real progress been made in upgrading freight by water services.

Now an excellent piece in USA Today has revealed some figures which reveal the apparent ineptitude demonstrated by the authorities in attempting to upgrade the American nation’s waterways. One example is of the 83 year old lock on the Ohio River which had $775 million set aside for replacement back in 1983. It took five years to start the work with a completion date of 2000. Modifications to save $60 million were then included which helped delay the project further and now the completion date is estimated at 2020 or beyond at a cost of $3.1 billion!

The article not only criticises the twenty hour delays which barges are suffering on the nations waterways but points out that it can take a freight train 35 hours to cross Chicago at a time when rail freight is supposedly being promoted for the most urgent environmental reasons whilst the country’s bridges are said to be in such poor repair that almost 25% are described as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Transport infrastructure is the logistics industry’s own great vampire squid with the ability to suck the financial life from all and sundry and requiring investment of colossal proportions to enable efficient movement of goods by all forms of transport. It is often the case that Western logistics interests criticise the appalling inefficiencies present in many less well off regions but when the world’s biggest economy has holes this big in its basic supply chain infrastructure one can begin to comprehend the scale of the problem for less developed economies.

Photo: The great lock gates of Kings Dock, Swansea manufactured by Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company Limited (better known now as the parent company for West Ham United F.C.) installed for the princely sum of £38,503 5s 0d in 1907. Many no doubt much repaired gates of this vintage are still operating today.