News   Jul 19, 2024
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Roads: Ontario/GTA Highways Discussion

In some previous studies on ’goods movement’ through the GTA, both rural and urban, it has been recognized that their is a lack of data about where goods move from and to, why, and how their transportation strategy is chosen.

Unless the ‘six’ is giving up eating, drinking, and consuming, a goods movement strategy, which is currently primarily truck based, whether last mile, regional, or long haul, needs to be a primary consideration. So roads and highways. There are not many other choices either rural or Urban these days.

I would argue that the freight movement strategies need to innovate. Yes we have electric vans, advanced signally systems for trains, brilliant logistics infrastructures to handle your prepackaged fruits and salad kits. But that is still all truck based.

I’m not a rail ’guy’ but interact enough with their lack of freight ’service’, to keep thinking that they are well overdue for an upheaval in their innovation thinking, especially on competition with long haul truck freight. The container was one revolution, we need further. And that would be a start.
 
Isnt this based on the 2022 data .. which will be getting updated some point in the next month or so ... as it missing some things .. ie the highway 11 2+1 project.
I believe that the HWY 11 Cochrane Bypass and HWY 6 continued grade separation between Maltby and Speed River are new entries on the list since I last looked at it in late 2022.
 
In some previous studies on ’goods movement’ through the GTA, both rural and urban, it has been recognized that their is a lack of data about where goods move from and to, why, and how their transportation strategy is chosen.

Unless the ‘six’ is giving up eating, drinking, and consuming, a goods movement strategy, which is currently primarily truck based, whether last mile, regional, or long haul, needs to be a primary consideration. So roads and highways. There are not many other choices either rural or Urban these days.

I would argue that the freight movement strategies need to innovate. Yes we have electric vans, advanced signally systems for trains, brilliant logistics infrastructures to handle your prepackaged fruits and salad kits. But that is still all truck based.

I’m not a rail ’guy’ but interact enough with their lack of freight ’service’, to keep thinking that they are well overdue for an upheaval in their innovation thinking, especially on competition with long haul truck freight. The container was one revolution, we need further. And that would be a start.
There is a huge amount of freight moving between Montreal and Toronto by highway. Rail takes some of this, but could be more competitive with highway. The main reason not to use rail is for time sensitive movements (say ecommerce deliveries or food products). With electrification of heavy goods vehicles/class 8 trucks, the pressure is going to be shifting freight from rail to road as the cost will be lower. Nevermind with autonomous highway trucking--TuSimple just announced their 10M mile of autonomous highway truck driving. With driver shortages this is only going to accelerate.
 
There is a huge amount of freight moving between Montreal and Toronto by highway. Rail takes some of this, but could be more competitive with highway. The main reason not to use rail is for time sensitive movements (say ecommerce deliveries or food products). With electrification of heavy goods vehicles/class 8 trucks, the pressure is going to be shifting freight from rail to road as the cost will be lower. Nevermind with autonomous highway trucking--TuSimple just announced their 10M mile of autonomous highway truck driving. With driver shortages this is only going to accelerate.
I always thought it was because rail is way too expensive compared to just using truck trailers to transport stuff.
 
I always thought it was because rail is way too expensive compared to just using truck trailers to transport stuff.
Rail is generally cheaper (intermodal), but tends to only make sense for distances over 1000km. There are more touches that truck goes to origin location to pick up load, drive directly to destination location. Intermodal you go from origin location, to intermodal yard, railway loads the trailer on a rail car, it eventually gets moved to another intermodal yard (railways typically have an SLA for how long this takes), where the railway unloads it and is then brought to the destination location.

For lanes like Toronto to Montreal, the distance is short enough that it can easily be done in one direct trip (a driver can even do a roundtrip in one working day). So if you're Amazon and you're promising next day delivery, it's a lot more appealing to send a truck at 7 pm and know it will be in Montreal for midnight for sorting and delivery next day. If you are slightly delayed by highway and don't leave until 8, you only lose an hour. With intermodal it's like missing your flight, and your load might not be delivered for another 24h.

Cost is the main advantage of intermodal, driven by fuel efficiency (about 75% more efficient) and reduced labour (one crew can move a hundred loads). The other advantage I guess is not being so limited by driver availability if you have many loads to move. Flexibility and time are the main downsides. The flexibility and time is partly a function of how railways in NA operate, with enormous trains. Smaller, more frequent trains would be more costly but would be more competitive on time. I think in Europe they are better at this end of the market, though North America moves much more freight by rail overall.
 
With intermodal trains now being in the order of a couple of kilometers long, they take a while to build and only makes sense between major centres that are far apart. A friend used to drive for one of the major grocery chains back in the day (Steinberg's I think) and he did regular overnight round trips between Toronto and Montreal. I think CP tried 'roadrailers' between the two cities but couldn't make it work.
 
There is a huge amount of freight moving between Montreal and Toronto by highway. Rail takes some of this, but could be more competitive with highway. The main reason not to use rail is for time sensitive movements (say ecommerce deliveries or food products). With electrification of heavy goods vehicles/class 8 trucks, the pressure is going to be shifting freight from rail to road as the cost will be lower. Nevermind with autonomous highway trucking--TuSimple just announced their 10M mile of autonomous highway truck driving. With driver shortages this is only going to accelerate.
The Class 8 movement is interesting. Aurora has unveiled a higher level of automation on their platform as well. Most (all) of this testing had been done in the southern USA ( and China). I am not a non believer, but would like to see much testing done under Canadian winter driving conditions and urban off highway routes as well.

As for rail it takes about 5 days to get a container from a Vancouver to Toronto by rail , but not necessarily in your dock. Rail mileage from V to T is about 2740 miles or 4411 km’s so about 37 km per hour. Now if that average was 50 km per hour, that would be a service.

And if you add some engineering innovation to the loading and unloading of road raiders and could average the same speed( or better ) over distance, that would be a service as well.

Railways are just frustrating because they do not seem to be really in the service and innovation business, they are just in the ‘precision railway & Dividend Payout’ business.
 
precision railroading is all about lowering costs. A lot can be said about "race to the bottom" and how precision railroading is really a fancy word for that.. but it's worked well for the railroad industries so far to focus on the higher margin long-distance tonnage and ignore local freight with higher costs and lower margins.
 
precision railroading is all about lowering costs. A lot can be said about "race to the bottom" and how precision railroading is really a fancy word for that.. but it's worked well for the railroad industries so far to focus on the higher margin long-distance tonnage and ignore local freight with higher costs and lower margins.
Electrification of trucking would make it that much more difficult to compete for shorter distance freight. Add in autonomy--which will be very doable in the next few years, even just between terminals on the outskirts of the GTA and Montreal--and it will be even tougher. The only hope would be for road tolls to disincentivize trucking to make rail more attractive.

The risk to rail is that electrification+autonomy offers the option of team driver service at very competitive cost for cross-country freight. Toronto to Calgary in under 48h.
 
Electrification of trucking would make it that much more difficult to compete for shorter distance freight. Add in autonomy--which will be very doable in the next few years, even just between terminals on the outskirts of the GTA and Montreal--and it will be even tougher. The only hope would be for road tolls to disincentivize trucking to make rail more attractive.

The risk to rail is that electrification+autonomy offers the option of team driver service at very competitive cost for cross-country freight. Toronto to Calgary in under 48h.

Autonomy will not be ready in a few (3-5) years. Maybe, maybe, 30-50 years. It's all smoke and mirrors right now.

Electrification is great (I have an electric car, love it), but, also, those big trucks will require lots of recharging on a Toronto to Calgary route. There will need to be tons, and tons of new infrastructure for electric charging (truck grade) stations that would need to be built to support trips like this. That is also at least 20 years away.
 
Autonomy will not be ready in a few (3-5) years. Maybe, maybe, 30-50 years. It's all smoke and mirrors right now.

Electrification is great (I have an electric car, love it), but, also, those big trucks will require lots of recharging on a Toronto to Calgary route. There will need to be tons, and tons of new infrastructure for electric charging (truck grade) stations that would need to be built to support trips like this. That is also at least 20 years away.
autonomy on freeways already exists. Full autonomy through urban areas? Maybe less so, but 3-5 years (ok, maybe 5-10 realistically) is a very possible timeline for terminal to terminal shipping. Facilities like industrial warehouses off the 401 in Mississauga are not complicated for a computer driven vehicle to access safely.

driving through a bustling urban area? less so.
 
autonomy on freeways already exists. Full autonomy through urban areas? Maybe less so, but 3-5 years (ok, maybe 5-10 realistically) is a very possible timeline for terminal to terminal shipping. Facilities like industrial warehouses off the 401 in Mississauga are not complicated for a computer driven vehicle to access safely.

driving through a bustling urban area? less so.

Umm, no it doesn't. There are no cars capable of level 5 autonomy on highways. Also, if you are talking about Tesla Autopilot, that is not autonomy that is glorified cruise control (and a middling one at that).

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If the discussion is about the likes of Tu Simple for autonomous trucking, all of their routes are in the US south. Relatively flat and warm temperatures for the most part. I await a trial in an Ontario/Quebec winter let alone through northern Ontario or the Coquihalla in BC. I'm also not sure if they have advanced to regular commercial runs without a monitoring driver.

Another problem I foresee for them is a Chinese tech company being a significant investor. I see complaints about strategic cyber security.
 
Autonomy will not be ready in a few (3-5) years. Maybe, maybe, 30-50 years. It's all smoke and mirrors right now.
TuSimple has operated 10 million highway miles of driverless operation across the southern US. CN is a partner. The only real barrier to adoption in Canada is inclement weather, which is quite solvable.


We already have the infrastructure to recharge electric trucks. It's called the electric grid. We just need to tap into it with charging stations. It's actually much easier to handle truck charging, as you only need it along very specific highway routes to be useful, whereas car drivers expect to be able to drive anywhere. Tesla's Semi has a range of 500 mi. Even if you placed stations 250 mi apart, you would only need ~10 charging stations between Toronto and Calgary, and they can be dropped anywhere it is convenient to access or drop a substation. I'm amused you think this is difficult when Tesla can built a 5 million sqft factory in 9 months.
 
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