Assessing the Capacity of the Pacific Northwest as an Intermodal Freight Transportation Hub
Vergara, Hector A.
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This project synthesizes information from multiple sources about the capacity of the Pacific Northwest region to handle intermodal freight transportation demand. The findings from this research are intended to be used as a framework to start a research program focusing on the planning decision making needs of stakeholders in the region. The major sources of information about intermodal capacity were published reports from different stakeholders, online resources, and information obtained through conversations with a small set of stakeholders. Information about the current and future demand for intermodal freight transportation in the region was obtained from the FAF3 database of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and complemented by information available in published reports. The analysis of the current and future gap between capacity and demand for intermodal freight transportation was completed using the Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) approach to develop a more complete understanding of the factors affecting the development and expansion of intermodal freight transportation in the region. Although the accuracy of the quantitative data cannot be considered very high, general trends can be analyzed. Most of the intermodal freight flow in the region is containerized cargo that visits the main marine ports: Port of Seattle, Port of Tacoma, and at a smaller scale Port of Portland. Other port terminals that are able to handle intermodal freight flow exist in the region but represent a small portion of the total flow. Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway and Union Pacific (UP) Railroad have dedicated intermodal terminals in the region providing service for truck-road intermodal transportation, and rail connectivity to marine ports is also available. An analysis of the difference between intermodal capacity and demand at an aggregate level indicates that the current infrastructure is able to handle the existing demand for containerized international freight flow in the region. However, different scenarios of demand growth show that if capacity expansion does not occur, the existing capacity will not be sufficient to satisfy the demand in the future. Main factors affecting the perception of stakeholders about the level of service and future expansion of intermodal freight transportation in the region include highway congestion in the major metropolitan areas, lack of other generators and receivers of intermodal freight flow, coordination between different stakeholders, and limited availability of ocean carriers providing service to the Port of Portland.