Log Movement in the Superior Region - Rate and Capacity Based Analysis of Modal Shares

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Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


For the last two decades, the rail system in the Superior (Project) region (Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northern parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota) has witnessed declining freight volumes. This has specifically impacted forest products industry, one of the largest users of freight rail transportation in the region. Log movements by rail from aggregation points to the mills has been a cost effective and safe method for obtaining raw materials and many outbound forest products have moved to final destination from the mills by rail. Unfortunately, forest products movements (logs or final products) aren’t necessarily a perfect match with the current business model of larger railroads and as a result, changes in the rail rate and service structures have shifted increasing tonnage of forest products movements (especially logs) off the rails and onto trucks. Retaining and improving the transportation infrastructure and freight rail operations is vital to the efforts to increase the opportunities for economic growth and new job creation in the region. Retaining or expanding the forest products industry in this region is challenging without rail and the potential for any other natural resource/heavy manufacturing industry developments, whose prerequisite for a new development is rail access, is limited. This project, conducted by the Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech) in collaboration with the Lake State Shipper Association (LSSA), CN Railway, Escanaba & Lake Superior Railroad, and the funding organizations, is part of an effort to develop a strategy for continuing freight movement by forest industry on railroads in the Project region. More specifically, it concentrated on the following five objectives and related research questions: (Objective 1) Create a model for, and recover, shipper data at the “actionable shipper data” level of detail; (Objective 2) Develop spatial model for the modal splits of log movements by truck versus by truck and rail for existing infrastructure (incorporating capacity and operational limitations); (Objective 3) Investigate a number of rail cars needed for log movements in the project area; (Objective 4) Explore the value and impact of increased log movements by rail on the log truckers; and (Objective 5) Identify inbound and outbound “non-log” movements by forest products and other industries.