Container-on-barge service could be a $500 million business on the inland waterways, but the federal government hasn’t been willing to test the idea on a large scale to prove its value, according to Paul Pollinger, a Washington, D.C., consultant.
Addressing the potential for container transport on barges at the Transportation Research Board’s summer meeting in Boston on Monday, Pollinger described a vessel design that could operate on the inland waterways system and the open ocean. They could be capable of transporting containers from the Midwest to such destinations as Port Manatee and Tampa, Fla.; Veracruz, Mexico; or Kingston, Jamaica.
Such service could give shippers a lower-cost alternative to rail service, but the Department of Transportation hasn’t shown much interest in developing the idea, Pollinger said. “If their (DOT’s) hearts aren’t in it, maybe it would be better if it were inside the Department of Commerce,” he said.
Containers on barge could effectively be floating distribution centers for inland manufacturers, Pollinger said. Barge service would be as reliable for just-in-time delivery, even though the transit time is slower than rail or truck service.
James R. McCarville, who as executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh tried tried to develop a New Orleans-Pittsburgh container-on-barge service several years ago, said attracting shippers will be a long-term process.
“Shippers tend to stay with one mode,” McCarville said. “It takes a big incentive to make them switch.”
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