Ill-informed on short-sea shipping

I assume the purpose of Peter Tirschwell's column on short-sea shipping (Nov. 24-30 issue) was to see if anyone was reading it. If you keep this up, there won't be.

Why are you so worried about the definition? You explained the concept. If you want a definition, why don't you e-mail the largest port in the world (Rotterdam) and ask them. Check with the ports of Antwerp and Hamburg. If you punch up the short-sea sailing list of any of those ports, you will get over 200 regularly scheduled short-sea sailings a month.

The reason Europe is ahead of the U.S. in this concept is because their inland transportation system hit the wall before ours did. No double-stack trains for them; they have electric wires overhead. Road expansion

wasn't the answer for them either. We will get our turn in the barrel, so to speak. When the economy turns around and the U.S. starts doubling or tripling its foreign commerce in the next 15 years, we will be scrambling for every possible mode available to get the goods delivered - and water has the most available capacity.

Your comment about a true waterborne intermodal system not existing in the U.S. is not true. Every year about 125 million tons of bulk material is moved on the Great Lakes from U.S. and Canadian ports to U.S. ports by water. And what about the Mississippi River system? Sounds like U.S. port to U.S. port to me.

Everything positive you said about the rail intermodal system can be said of short-sea shipping. It is competition for the other modes, it gets trucks off the road, it even reduces the number of trains moving through communities on a daily basis, and it "reserves" highways and railroads for areas that are landlocked or are only a short distance to the destination.

There are obstacles in implementing a short-sea shipping program, the most difficult of which is getting people to think outside of the box. The U.S. will need total logistics of all modes to ensure that what they want on the store shelf is there. Consider these facts:

-- The rail network that carries 40 percent of the total domestic freight has increased in volume of freight it carries by 50 percent since 1980 while track mileage has been reduced by 35 percent.

-- The highway system that carries 60 percent of the domestic freight has experienced a doubling of vehicle miles traveled in the past 20 years while total highway miles have increased 1 percent, according to the National Chamber Federation's "A Study of North American Port and Intermodal Systems."

At $32 million for a new mile of highway and $100 million for an interchange, together with the time it takes to make that happen, I doubt we are going to build ourselves out of the problem.

You need to go to some conferences on short-sea shipping before you have one. You may want to take a trip to some European ports and talk to some of the transportation agencies and see why their governments are supporting short-sea shipping. If you looked at it a little closer, maybe you would see the value. The St. Lawrence Seaway Trade Mission in October did exactly that.

Stephen Pfeiffer

Maritime director

Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority