An upswing in the nation’s freight and rail systems’ cargo loads has experts
offering their ideas to help the U.S. become a global leader in transporting
Speakers at Friday’s rail summit at Sand Creek Country Club, Paul Fisher of
CenterPoint Properties and John Vickerman of Vickerman & Associates, said
the entire state of Indiana is poised to reach this goal by implementing
strategic plans and capture some more freight investment.
At the same time “creating jobs for their constituents,” Vickerman said. Low
cost freight will leverage jobs, he said, and “have a ripple effect” on the
economy. He said ports around the Great Lakes will be receiving more freight
from cargo ships traveling out of the Panama Canal.
The industry has saved millions by participating in green initiatives to
reduce the number of trucks on the road, Vickerman said.
Introducing the speakers, Chairman of the Northwest Indiana Regional
Development Authority (RDA) Leigh Morris said “rail is about jobs” and using
the capabilities the state has will create “greater positive impact for
everybody involved.” Morris read a message from U.S. Senator Richard Lugar
saying he will push for measures to shore up federal dollars for making rail
Fisher advocated state and national governments to approve policies that
would allow public-private partnerships to form. The relationships would be
mutually beneficial, giving governments the capital they need to build the
rail lines and, in turn, governments would give private companies the zoning
and permits needed to do their work.
As of now, Fischer said, the U.S. and Indiana do not have the full resources
needed to position its rail systems in the global market.
“Let’s face it, government is not going to have the money for the work that
needs to be done,” said Fischer. “With a little bit of seed money, I think
we will get a lot of projects accomplished.”
With Northwest Indiana’s location near Chicago, the hub of the Great Lakes
region, Fisher stressed the importance of regional cooperation and regional
Vickerman said the U.S. and other countries in the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) have seen a turning point in the number of ports and cargo
ships in countries in Southeast Asia. Of the world’s busiest ports, nine of
them are in Asia and six of them are in mainland China.
European countries are also in their fifth generation of computer automation
for their ports while the U.S. is not even in its first, Vickerman said.
In order for the U.S. to move ahead in the game, Vickerman said the region
must speak out with a single voice and consolidate commitments.
Businesses in the U.S. are showing interest in increasing container
shipments and making transport better for the environment. Wal-Mart is one
business that is using energy efficient cargo ships designed to carry more
freight and cut 20 million tons of greenhouse pollution by 2015.
As freight transportation continues to change, Vickerman said the customer
does not “give a diddly” about how goods are shipped as cargo, as long as
the end product gets to them consistently and on schedule.
“It could be by Star Trek transport – it doesn’t matter,” said Vickerman.
Taking questions from the audience, Fischer said the proposed Illiana
Expressway connecting to Interstate 65 will help out the region’s rail
transportation. He said that its “foolish” not to continue it east past
I-65, into Lake and Porter Counties.
Ports of Indiana CEO Rich Cooper said the Ports are “off to a very good
start” in 2012, with its flagship port in Burns Harbor shipping its highest
cargo volume since 2006. The port saw a third consecutive year of growth
with a more than 2 million tons of shipped cargo last year, a 10 percent
increase over 2010.
Cooper said having multi-modal connections of rail and highway connectivity
gives the Ports a sustainable competitive advantage.
“Water is not enough. Freight has a voice in the Ports of Indiana,” said
During the event, U.S. Congressman Pete Visclosky reminded summit attendees
that Lake and Porter Counties have received $71 million in federal stimulus
money for high speed rail systems. He spoke of the “vast economic potential”
Northwest Indiana has with rail investments, highlighting the development of
Harbor Belt Railway in Lake County.