National Center for Sustainable Transportation
Freight Efficiency Strategies: Operational Modernization at Distribution Nodes
- Author(s): O’Brien, Thomas
- Reeb, Tyler
- et al.
This white paper documents obstacles preventing operational modernization at trade nodes and then recommends strategies to address those challenges in ways that address the State of California’s goals to improve freight efficiency, economic competitiveness, and environmental sustainability. All of the strategies outlined in this report are intended to inform next steps in the development of the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan. The first of those recommended strategies focuses on establishing energy independence at marine terminals through the use of energy microgrids. Using microgrid technology, marine terminals can become self-sustaining “energy islands” capable of independently generating their own energy supplies separate from legacy energy grids to maintain ongoing operations. In the event of natural or manmade disasters, marine terminals with energy grids could continue operations even if the main power grid in the region collapses. Additionally, marine terminals could sell excess electricity generated by their microgrids back to the main power grid in their respective region. Implementation of energy grids requires considerable financial investment as well as new partnerships with governmental and industry stakeholders. This white paper also explores ways to incentivize “buy-in” for energy grids into existing energy markets. In addition to addressing the importance of energy efficiency and independence at distribution nodes, this white paper also addresses the importance of improving truck access at distribution nodes in a manner that addresses the three interrelated goals outlined in Gov. Brown’s executive order: economic competitiveness, movement toward zero emissions, and operational efficiency. To promote improved truck access at distribution nodes, the research investigated the use of truck platooning, virtual container yards, design-based guidelines, and weigh-inmotion strategies to improve freight efficiency. Truck platooning involves a train of trucks traveling together at very close proximities to lower fuel costs and increase efficiency. Through the use of advanced wireless communication technologies, the second driver, third driver, and any subsequent drivers are able to brake at the same time as the first driver who controls the speed and pace of the train of trucks. Although further research, regulations, and technological advances are required for widespread implementation where any truck can join a convoy or train, potential benefit of this practice on diesel consumption, the environment, and the economy is significant. Likewise, the effect of virtual container yards (VCY) on freight efficiency holds the potential of introducing new efficiencies into the freight transportation network. Despite the many technological advances in freight, truckers continue to transport empty containers when they return or pick-up goods. Carrying empty containers in this manner wastes time and money for drivers and companies; it also increases carbon dioxide emissions and unnecessary fuel consumption. However, implementation of VCYs can eliminate this inefficiency. VCY leverages internet-based systems to locate empty containers in real-time and facilitates exchanges without the use of a physical container yard or distribution node.The design-based guidelines outlined in this paper address physical design elements at distribution nodes that either aid or impede freight. Aside from designing facilities for truck types, loads, ease of movement and maneuverability, freight routes, and parking and loading zones at distribution nodes, design-based guidelines should be taken into account for routes within metropolitan areas connecting distribution nodes. Inefficient truck movements caused by poorly designed distribution nodes can have a similar negative net effect on the movement of goods, the economy, and the environment. Implementing design-based-guidelines at truck nodes can not only promote modern efficiencies but also increase safety for all modes of transportation, maintain truck mobility and access, and reduce negative environmental impacts. To further ease movement between distribution nodes, this white paper also assesses the potential benefits of weigh-in-motion technologies. Traditionally, freight faces delays with the enforcement of weight limits. However, weigh in-motion technology allows truckers to meet regulations while en route to their destinations. This not only eliminates travel time and the costs associated with it, but also increases overall freight safety, reduces equipment and highway damage, and curbs harmful air emissions. This White Paper concludes with recommendations that inform next steps in the development of the California Sustainable Freight Action Plan.