REDISCOVERING THE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.

We’ve long understood that the cost advantage in freight transportation depends on distance, with railroads, and water carriers where waterways are available, making the longer hauls more cheaply, particularly with bulk commodities.  The cost advantage of rail over highway transportation appears for shipments travelling farther than five hundred miles, give or take.  The railroads, however, have been shying away from much of that intermodal business, that despite signs of strain in long-haul trucking manifesting themselves long before anybody heard of Wuhan, let alone of virology research there.

A week ago, I noted, “There are no short-term solutions, and the railroads have to think about how best to do shorter-haul and retail intermodal trains.”  Then an executive with a freight-forwarding company rented a boat to look at what was going on shoreside at Los Angeles and Long Beach and posted his impressions.  Among his suggestions to ungum the works was an all-hands effort by the railroads to get the containers somewhere inland and let the truckers pick them up there.

I don’t know if somebody in Omaha heard him, or if somebody noticed that there was money to be made.
Union Pacific, the Port of Long Beach, and the Utah Inland Port Authority have announced the launch of direct rail service between the Long Beach and Utah facilities to help address ongoing port congestion.

The executive directors of the two facilities, Mario Cordero of Long Beach and Jack Hedge of the Utah authority, said in a joint statement that the direct, regularly scheduled service “will allow cargo destined for all of the Intermountain West to be rapidly evacuated from terminals in Long Beach to Salt Lake City for further distribution throughout the region. Much of this cargo traditionally moves to Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho by truck, and thus must be removed from the port terminals one container at a time. Reengaging this direct rail service will allow removal of blocks of containers at a time.”

Cordero also said the agreement immediately reduces pressure on terminal storage, gates, chassis, and the local drayage community on the coast. … It’s a major step forward for exporters from the region.”
It’s a research project for another day to work out why those boxes weren’t already moving on stack trains to Salt Lake City rather than as one container at a time with a driver putting in more than a full day on the road between the coast and Salt Lake.  Several commenters on that post are noting that the reluctance of the railroads to go after those 500 mile intermodal moves goes beyond Union Pacific.  Perhaps, dear reader, you’ve heard of North Baltimore, Ohio.

How much money might Union Pacific have been leaving on the table?  A Railway Age analysis includes this.  “Millions of TEUs [a 20′ x 8′ x 8′ basic container load — Ed.] of international goods are imported to or exported from the Intermountain West annually, but only 10% of this cargo currently moves by rail. This initiative aims to provide consistent, reliable movement of cargo by rail, which improves fluidity and reduces delays of shipments already set to come to the Intermountain region, rather than increase cargo volume.”  The value proposition might have been there as early as 2018, and the allocation studies I referred to at the start of this post are over fifty years old.  And only now Union Pacific and Utah Inland are going after this traffic, and only now claiming the environmental benefits and less highway congestion??

I’m also puzzled by the way Our Political Masters are working the problem.  There’s now a Container Excess Dwell Fee in Los Angeles, applied to containers that aren’t railed out within three days or trucked out within nine.  Forgive me my age, but what ever happened to per diem charges for rolling stock in motion, and demurrage charges for rolling stock sitting around?  The per diem charge is the rental a railroad company pays to the owner of the car for a day, and there used to be a chess game called get-the-foreign-road-cars-interchanged-by-midnight, sticking the receiving road with the per diem charge; while the demurrage charge applied to a consignee who treated a freight car as free warehouse space rather than unloading it promptly and releasing it for service.

Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff suggests that the Biden administration’s efforts to untangle the ports aren’t likely to succeed quickly.  But if you’re thinking about parallels to incapacitated presidents current and past, some of the port jam-ups bring to mind the logistical nightmare that was mobilizing the American Expeditionary Force.  That, too, is outside my area of expertise.

Why, though, weren’t the freight railroads better positioned to go after some of those container hauls before the current emergency manifested itself?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Affirmatively Furthering Food Deserts?

In his attempts to close the sale, Our President has tossed in an appeal to “suburban women,” something along the lines of “I’m protecting your suburbs” with references either to “projects” or “Section 8.”
On [August 16] The Wall Street Journal published a joint op-ed by [housing secretary Ben] Carson and President Donald Trump in which the two warned that eliminating single-family zoning would import urban dysfunction into thriving suburban communities.
Not surprisingly, he’s getting called out for that sort of language.  “Inclusive and equitable suburbs build more affordable housing, advance fairness in education, and centers environmental justice.” 

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Rush Limbaugh Went There.

He was being funny, late on last Thursday’s show, and he came up with this.  “My favorite conspiracy theory is that this virus is the work of a bunch of lunatic billionaires who really believe that we are destroying the planet and they have discovered that we can’t get to Mars in time and we can’t colonize the moon so they have come up with a way to get rid of billions of people to make the world have a longer survivability potential.”  I’ve been referring, recently, to Tom Clancy novels, but I had no plans to go anywhere near Rainbow Six.

As the novel involves precisely that kind of lunatic billionaire, as well as some clandestine work to shut down the plan and disappear the plotters, because of the risk of “a global panic when people realize what a biotech company can do if it wants,” though, well, perhaps there’s another story in it.

Regular readers of Tom Clancy know that the likelihood of a secret being blown is proportional to the square of the number of people in on it.  The novel left a number of possible dots to connect to put together yet another story, one with the potential to topple governments.  If I had any sort of novel-writing skills, I might essay such a thing, although it might be more productive to offer some of the dots, as if a mental exercise in quarantine, should anyone wish to essay such an effort.

There are almost enough dots to make a post as long as a Tom Clancy novel.  They’re below the jump.

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The Integrity of the Dialectic Must Be Preserved.

We begin with a general lament by Max Boot.

Kids, don’t become like Donald Trump. Study history. The fact that so many Americans know so little about the past means that we as a society are vulnerable to demagogues. “Don’t know much about history” is a catchy song lyric but a dangerous motto for a democracy.

Historians may not want to admit it, but they bear some blame for the increasing irrelevance of their discipline. As historians Hal Brands and Francis Gavin argue in War on the Rocks, since the 1960s, history professors have retreated from public debate into their own esoteric pursuits. The push to emphasize “cultural, social and gender history,” and to pay “greater attention to the experiences of underrepresented and oppressed groups,” they write, has been a welcome corrective to an older historiography that focused almost entirely on powerful white men. But like many revolutions, this one has gone too far, leading to the neglect of political, diplomatic and military history — subjects that students need to study and, as enrollment figures indicate, students want to study but that universities perversely neglect. Historian Jill Lepore notes that we have ditched an outdated national narrative without creating a new one to take its place, leaving a vacuum to be filled by tribalists.

Put another way, democracy dies in a darkness brought about by, inter alia, writers at influential newspapers. Consider, for instance, the 1619 Project from New York’s Times, which somehow wrote about slavery and secession and emancipation without asking any history professors.

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