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Barge vs Rail for Cargo

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Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Tanada » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 09:56:22

Today is the anniversary of the start of construction of the Erie Canal, July 4, 1817.

Reading up about it something occurred to me. Barges are not all sexy like high speed rail, but they are very very fuel efficient. Take a look at these comparisons,
http://business.tenntom.org/why-use-the ... mparisons/

Canals require more investment up front than Railroads, but once they are built the maintenance requirements are much lower. A Class A railroad has to clean ballast, replace ties and rails on a schedule and deal with all manner of interactions with traffic at road crossings. A canal on the other hand has to be dredged occasionally and locks have to be maintained in good working order, but nearly all traffic crossing points are the responsibility of local governments, not the canal authority.

The Railroads big advantage is speed, fostered by the JIT cargo mentality of the late 20th and early 21st Century planners. Barge big advantage is efficiency, floating along at 10 mph takes very little fuel compared to other transport modes. Canal tolls generate the funds to maintain the system and when used at moderate capacity rates even show a profit just like toll highways do for semi truck cargo.

So given that this chain of barges started with the Erie Canal I looked up the New York Barge Canal aka Erie Canal and found this,
Cargo barges are becoming a more common sight on the state's 524-mile canal system as shippers begin to appreciate their ability to move oversize shipments or heavy items that might tax a truck or rail car.

The nearly 100,000 tons of cargo shipped last year were the most in two decades, more than double the 43,000 tons shipped in 2012.

Canal officials say they expect another busy season this year.

One of the largest shippers is Troy-based NYS Marine Highway Transportation Co., which last year moved grain from Canada to New York state across Lake Ontario and through the Oswego and Erie canals, and delivered concrete vaults used to contain spent nuclear fuel to a site in Wisconsin, after picking them up in Virginia. The company also exported soybeans, and brought back a small shipment of cheese from Kewaunee, Wis., on Lake Michigan...

Boaters this year will be able to buy two-day, 10-day and season-long canal passes online, Mahar said.

"Most people have smartphones and travel with iPads" or other tablet devices, he said, and can display their electronic passes on the devices' screens.

Forty-five miles of the canal system in western New York — Lock CS-1 on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and the Erie Canal between Three Rivers and Lock E-25 in Mays Point — remain closed because of heavy rainfall last weekend.

The canal system also suffered heavy damage from tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011, causing delays for boaters.

"If Mother Nature played nice," Mahar said Thursday, "we'd be open every day."

http://www.timesunion.com/business/arti ... 499703.php

Nothing stops industry from taking advantage of the existing barge canal network except lack of imagination. The companies that focus on efficient and cost will likely find their way back to Canal shipping for bulk cargo like say crude oil some time in the not too distant future.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Newfie » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 12:14:02

Europeans have extensive canal systems. The French system has certain standard size vessels it can accomdate, and then there are smaller feeder or local canals. It is possible to leave London, cross the English Channel, then go up the Sein to Paris and then on to the Med through the canal system. They even have some tunnels through mountains.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby vtsnowedin » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 14:26:05

I drive beside the Erie canal several times each year. I have yet to see a commercial shipment in transit. 100,000 tons in a year explains it as that amounts to just ten train loads a year.
I hope it is still usable when the oil runs out and we need to use it again instead of I-90.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Subjectivist » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 17:12:02

vtsnowedin wrote:I drive beside the Erie canal several times each year. I have yet to see a commercial shipment in transit. 100,000 tons in a year explains it as that amounts to just ten train loads a year.
I hope it is still usable when the oil runs out and we need to use it again instead of I-90.


This page gives figures for a typical self propelled "canal motorship" used up until 1994. Because it was designed early in the last century it left lots of spare room in the lock, ships designed now for canals are only about two feet narrower and ten feet less length than the smallest lock. Even so this ship was designed to haul 1650 tons cargo per trip, that would be about 60 round trips for 100,000 tons.

A large intermodal cargo container like those unloaded by the big freight companies in NYC are rated up to 30.4 metric tons so that old ship could haul 49 fully loaded containers replacing 49 semi trucks on the expressway. Another alternate is one motor barge would replace 22 double stack railroad container cars. A motor barge actually designed to take full advantage of the canal lock size would be bigger and haul more. Given all the congestion on the railroads thanks to the LTO boom its kind of odd to me that nobody thought to shift a bunch of that freight to the canal. The system could handle scores of cargo barges, it certainly did in the past. Calculations based on the link below.

http://www.eriecanalway.org/documents/D ... 09_000.pdf

P.S. A few years ago I went to a local Civil War reenactment and rode the Volunteer, it was fun but the whole restored section was under a mile long so it's not a long trip.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby SeaGypsy » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 17:44:24

Orlov goes into the canal system in some of his writing. He suggests more older style small vessels with very shallow draft will come back into fashion as oil becomes scarce as a matter of course, but that likely by the time the utility's value is realized the collapse will either be well underway or have already happened. This makes sense when you consider the pressure to spend on the most utilized systems, the canal system even in Europe is mostly about tourism, not competing with JIT.

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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Scrub Puller » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 19:26:14

Yair . . . I believe transport by sea will return in due course.

The same five hundred horsepower engine that moves fifty tons on a truck @ one hundred KPH (on a high maintenance highway) in a coastal barge can move five hundred tons @ten KPH with no maintenance for right of way . . . all that is required is a concrete ramp and hardstand for a container lift.

One of the problems in Australia is a union that has negotiated that (relatively) unskilled workers get twelve months pay for six months work.

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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby vtsnowedin » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 20:40:11

Subjectivist wrote: Given all the congestion on the railroads thanks to the LTO boom its kind of odd to me that nobody thought to shift a bunch of that freight to the canal.

Problem being that none of the existing canals have an end in North Dakota or Texas. Once it's loaded into a rail car it can be delivered to any refinery in the country without offloading or reloading it.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Subjectivist » Sat 04 Jul 2015, 22:30:52

vtsnowedin wrote:
Subjectivist wrote: Given all the congestion on the railroads thanks to the LTO boom its kind of odd to me that nobody thought to shift a bunch of that freight to the canal.

Problem being that none of the existing canals have an end in North Dakota or Texas. Once it's loaded into a rail car it can be delivered to any refinery in the country without offloading or reloading it.


Certainly, but I was talking about goods going from NYC to any other town on the canal network, as well as all the Great Lake ports on either side. Stuff like container loads of IKEA furniture could go by canal and lake to Detroit or Chicago and not compete with the coal and oil on the Railroad.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Subjectivist » Sun 05 Jul 2015, 22:34:52

vtsnowedin wrote:I drive beside the Erie canal several times each year. I have yet to see a commercial shipment in transit. 100,000 tons in a year explains it as that amounts to just ten train loads a year.
I hope it is still usable when the oil runs out and we need to use it again instead of I-90.


I found an interview from 2014 of the head of the Canal Authority of New York,

"We still believe it’s a very viable and outstanding system," said Canal Corp Director Brian Stratton.

Though the canal still moves a fraction of what it did at it's height 75 years ago - about a half million tons.

"It’s never gotten up to its full capacity," Stratton said. "It has the capacity to move 10 million tons a year."

The Canal Corporation is part of the Thruway Authority, a public benefit corporation.

http://innovationtrail.org/post/erie-ca ... ng-returns

With a system designed to handle 10,000,000 tons per year and a use rate of 100,000 tons means they are running at just 1 percent of capacity. Shall we say, a lot of room for improvement?
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Newfie » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 08:17:34

Perhaps there is very limited trade between Chicago or detroit and NYC. they all trade with China and other oversea entities, but not with one another. IKEA has no desire to off load and trans ship when they can go direct or transfer to rail and go inland. Also, recall the Erie Canal is now parallel by a much larger canal system (of sorts), the St Lawrence Seaway.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby ROCKMAN » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 09:57:52

Newfie - Exactly. Consider the imports that are just shipped in through the port of Los Angeles that have to be distributed across the country: in April 2015 alone...$123 BILLION. Now compare that to these numbers I found: "In 2012, over 42,000 tons of cargo valued at
approximately $26 million was shipped on the Canal System. In 2013 over 100,000 tons of cargo are projected to be shipped on the Canal System." IOW LA saw more than 4700X of value shipped thru it in one month then was shipped thru the EC for the entire year of 2012. If one researched the total value of the EC commercial shipping is just a tiny part of the picture. It was very enlightening to see where the real value of the EC falls. If interested :

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q= ... 2980,d.b2w

Which explains why in the last 3 years more was spent on EC maintenance then the value of the commercial shipping: "At nearly 200 years old, the canals and locks need a fair amount of upkeep and investment. The corporation spent about $100 million over the past three years repairs locks damaged by severe storms and floods." With respect to intracontinental commercial shipping the EC appears to be not much more then an interesting historical footnote.

And now compare the EC to the Mississippi River: " The Mississippi River is the country’s most important waterway with about $7 billion worth of commodities is shipped on the river in December and January alone. Some 55 to 65 percent of U.S. corn, soybean, and wheat shipments exit the country via the Gulf, and within the country itself products such as, petroleum, fertilizer, sand, gravel, mulch, steel, are shipped up and down its major tributaries."
IOW water borne shipping is an important factor in the US. But the EC isn't much of a contributor and it is unlikely it ever will be IMHO.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Newfie » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 12:19:06

Also, the Erie Canal is shut down much of the year. Approximately from November through May.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Tanada » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 13:39:21

IMO you gentlemen are drawing a faulty analogy. The Erie Canal is like the Saint Lawrence Seaway, not the port of Los Angeles or the Mississippi River. Comparing a system designed for 10,000,000 metric tons/year cargo with a river network that spans the entire continent between Pennsylvania in the East and Idaho in the West is like comparing a firecracker to a bunker buster. The only thing they have in common is water and barges ;)

The Saint Lawrence Seaway also shuts down seasonally and traffic through the Welland Canal peaked in 1979 at around 70,000,000 tons, but for the last decade it has been hovering below 30,000,000. Both the Saint Lawrence and Erie canals concentrated their efforts on bulk cargoes like grain, coal and iron ore. As the Iron industry has declined and major manufacturing left the region there is much less call for those bulk cargoes today compared to 50 years ago.

On the other side of the coin containerized cargo has grown by leaps and bounds and has come to be the dominant form of shipping on the world stage. Unfortunately neither the Erie Canal nor the Saint Lawrence Seaway adapted to the change. This misfortune means that cargoes can be unloaded on the east or west coast, but transhipment to the Great Lakes is by necessity on Truck or Train. The system has to adapt because right now it is slowly withering away, but I have never once seen an advertizement about shipping anything by highly efficient water. I have seen plenty of ads from CSX extolling the virtues of fuel efficient rail shipping.

Shipment schedulers for companies throughout the midwest have a severe blind spot about using ships or barges to move finished goods. Until that changes we are wasting an enormous amount of energy not taking advantage of already built and existing barge/ship capacity.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby ROCKMAN » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 15:06:01

T - "Shipment schedulers for companies throughout the midwest have a severe blind spot about using ships or barges to move finished goods." That's exactly the point of the comparison. It doesn't matter why shippers aren't using the EC very much. That fact that the current load on the EC is so insignificant to the rest of commercial shipping in the US is the point of comparison. How much commerce comes across the Atlantic to our east coast? Couldn't find that number quickly but I suspect it's minimal compared to Asian imports. If every pound of traffic that made logistic sense were sent down the EC I doubt the fuel savings would amount to more than a small fraction of 1% of that used for all US transport.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby hvacman » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 15:46:22

The Erie Canal...reminds me of a song we sang in grade school.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5RJYisIYlk

It was originally mule-powered. The inland-way to move a lot of cargo efficiently in the days before steam engines.

Compare the freight via canal moved by "Sal", a single mule, vs that moved by wagon from Boron with a 20-mule-team.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20_Mule_Team_Borax#/media/File:20_Mule_Team_in_Death_Valley.jpg
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Tanada » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 16:51:21

ROCKMAN wrote:T - "Shipment schedulers for companies throughout the midwest have a severe blind spot about using ships or barges to move finished goods." That's exactly the point of the comparison. It doesn't matter why shippers aren't using the EC very much. That fact that the current load on the EC is so insignificant to the rest of commercial shipping in the US is the point of comparison. How much commerce comes across the Atlantic to our east coast? Couldn't find that number quickly but I suspect it's minimal compared to Asian imports. If every pound of traffic that made logistic sense were sent down the EC I doubt the fuel savings would amount to more than a small fraction of 1% of that used for all US transport.


Geeze ROCKMAN, California already stole our industry and all of our population growth over the last 40 years. They can't have EVERYTHING :? :razz: I know the Great Lakes are much more important than California, if they would just wake up and quit hogging all the action there would be plenty to go around :idea: :twisted: 8O

Perhaps compared to the California energy hogs the savings would be miniscule, but IMO those savings are still worth doing because one day soon big Mama Nature is gonna smack us upside our fool heads for being so sloppy and inefficient.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby hvacman » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 17:07:11

Perhaps compared to the California energy hogs the savings would be miniscule, but IMO those savings are still worth doing because one day soon big Mama Nature is gonna smack us upside our fool heads for being so sloppy and inefficient


I dunno T - I think I'd rather have save my energy by riding my bike to work and not having any fossil-fuel heat in most of California's winters than be fuel-free during Wisconsin's, Minnesota's or Michigan's winters, despite the shipping efficiencies of inland waterways. Also, Mama Nature's new warming trend isn't going to change so much that we'll be basking on Lake Superior beaches year-round any time soon.

There's a reason California cows are happy cows:)
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Tanada » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 17:46:10

There's a reason California cows are happy cows:)


Yup, I rekkon the desert sun dun fried their brains and they don't know no better.
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Newfie » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 18:18:05

That's right Tanda. Ma Nature won't be subtle.

Perhaps there is a better way to look at the choices we make. Time, we value time and speed.

Given two choices we always pick the faster, more reliable one.

Perhaps there in is the demise of water transport? Ice and mud?
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Re: Barge vs Rail for Cargo

Unread postby Subjectivist » Mon 06 Jul 2015, 19:47:44

Newfie wrote:That's right Tanda. Ma Nature won't be subtle.

Perhaps there is a better way to look at the choices we make. Time, we value time and speed.

Given two choices we always pick the faster, more reliable one.

Perhaps there in is the demise of water transport? Ice and mud?


Hey Newfie, if you follow this route to Toledo my wife and I will take you and yours out for a nice dinner,
http://youtu.be/KM98AQ8FxsI
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