Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Texas Freight Initiative Hopes to Clear Trucks off Congested Port Roads with New Rail Transporter

Port of Houston Looks at Automated Solution Running Silently Above Highway Medians
Shipping News Feature
US – At an event last month attended by the Governor of Texas Greg Abbott, the Port of Houston signed a MoU with the Texas A&M University’s Transport Institute to explore the use of the Institute’s new automated Freight Shuttle System (FSS) as a way to relieve heavily congested roads serving the port. The Freight Shuttle, which has been developed by the institute’s Freight Shuttle International (FSI), is designed to move truck trailers up to 53 ft and all sizes of ocean shipping containers via an emissions-free, electric-powered, freight only, rail transporter which runs on elevated guide ways above the medians of highways, or other rights-of-way, over distances of up to 500 miles.

At full capacity the participants claim the system can transport more than 300,000 tonnes of goods each day in each direction with a single guide way moving over 8,600 shipments each day. FSI projects that the FSS will use one-third of the energy at one sixth the costs of heavy-duty diesel trucks with its efficient and near silent linear induction motors. For the Port of Houston, which last year handled 2 million TEU, the possibility of efficiently moving substantial volumes from the port area to inland clearance yards is an important part of future development and growth. Roger Guenther, the port’s Executive Director explained the system saying:

“Container volumes continue to grow, we’ve continually innovated our terminals to accommodate that demand through expanded capacity and increased cargo velocity. The potential that the Freight Shuttle provides to complement the existing road and rail transportation system and contribute to economic growth and creation of jobs is truly exciting.

In common with many ports around the globe, the Port of Houston is served by both highway and rail links. However many of the cities highways suffer severe congestion leading to degraded infrastructure, increased pollution and traffic incidents. This problem is compounded by ever bigger ships being used by shipping lines which in turn is leading to congestion issues at a number of American ports

By potentially siting an FSS system along roadways by building elevated guide lines along highway medians, the FSS can use the existing rights of ways, an important consideration in reducing construction costs and environmental issues. Though railroads are still an excellent choice for moving high volumes of freight traffic from port areas they generally prefer hauling freight over greater distances than simply out of metropolitan areas, and certainly not to a comparatively close inland port distribution facility with better road connections and less congestion than at the ocean port itself.

Additionally, building costs for such dedicated rail links to alleviate congested ports can go badly wrong, as is currently being demonstrated by the Alameda Corridor, the 20-mile, $2.4 billion express-way designed to connect the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the national train system in down town Los Angeles. Opened to great fanfare in 2002, the line is currently languishing with debts of $4 billion. When compared to projected build costs of $300 million for a similar FSS link the contrast is stark.The FSI’s Chairman and President, Dr Steve Roop commented:

“We’ve been developing the freight shuttle concept for over a decade, but now it is a real, tangible system which people can see, and that makes a difference in attracting partners to support future development, refinement and deployment. This agreement with the Port of Houston is an encouraging sign.”

FSI has also proposed that their system could be used for inland freight transportation, including a dedicated line crossing the US-Mexican border to alleviate traffic issues at the notoriously slow chokepoint.

Photo: A prototype Freight Shuttle.