Derailment Ahead

Derailment Ahead

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

It ain''t gonna last. Call me a pessimist but I don''t see the much-ballyhooed truce between truckers and railroaders lasting a year.

The Association of American Railroads and the American Trucking Associations agreed two weeks ago to support the status quo on truck sizes and weights in any legislation before Congress. AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger and ATA President and CEO Bill Graves were earnest, sincere and agreeable when they held a joint press conference June 25 to announce their signing of the statement.

Seems like a sound decision. The truck lobby and the railroad lobby will join together to advance legislative proposals that benefit the entire ground freight transportation network, instead of slugging it out on a single, divisive issue. That was my take on it as I wrote last week''s editorial. After deadline I headed up to the ATA''s Capitol Hill lobbying headquarters, where the joint press conference was already under way. My question: Exactly how long will this agreement last? The joint statement says for "the full period of the TEA-21 reauthorization, including both short-term extensions and interim reauthorizations."

So if there is a two-year interim reauthorization followed by a new law with a six-year term, the truce could last eight years or more? I had trouble getting clarification on that. The best answer I got was from Bill Graves who said, "we know what that means," with the "we" being him and Ed Hamberger.

Since then I have heard from a variety of shipper and trucking representatives. National Industrial Transportation League Acting President Peter Gatti commented on the positive side of the truce, the advancement of a common, pro-freight agenda. But John Gentle, who is chairman of The NITL''s highway committee and global leader of carrier relations for Owens Corning, wanted to know what it was that the railroads gave up to get the trucking associations to agree to a freeze. He favors the productivity increases and lower truck rates that longer and heavier trucks provide.

The National Small Shipments Traffic Conference, which has supported "a targeted relaxation of the freeze for greater productivity consistent with safety," expressed qualified support for the ATA-AAR deal, said President Terri Ferraro, who is manager of transportation operations for Fiskars Brands Inc.

NASSTRAC General Counsel John Cutler said: "I was at the recent Senate hearing on truck safety and was sorry to see certain senators call for an expanded freeze without considering adverse impacts on shippers and the economy. If the truce kills (the Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act) without foreclosing appropriate future increases in truck sizes and weights, NASSTRAC members will regard it as acceptable. TEA-21 reauthorization is important to shippers as well as carriers."

Doug Duncan, president and CEO of FedEx Freight, said his company is a member of ATA and has confidence in Graves'' lobbying acumen. But if he had his choice, Duncan said, "I would not take anything off the table" while the trucking industry is under such financial pressure from security costs, more expensive diesel engines, fuel prices, taxes and rising insurance costs.

The Distribution & LTL Carriers Association doesn''t have an official position. But "my personal view is that it does make good political sense for our industry, since there is unfortunately more momentum to extend the freeze to the entire national highway system, as the SHIPA bill proposes, than to allow DOT to authorize greater usage of longer-combination vehicles in pilot programs run by the agency," said President Kevin Williams. The association supports the pilot programs, which he called "a reasonable and safe approach" recommended by the Transportation Research Bureau.