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Is Amtruk.org Going to Threaten
My Truck Driving Job?

by Thomas L. Atwood
TomAtwood@Earthlink.net
August 7, 2010

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It could, but it probably won't. The bottom line is that the railroad system being promoted by Amtruk.org will result in a need for more trucks, not fewer. But, since some trucks will be transported without drivers during the railroad part of their trip, the number of drivers needed to operate 100 long haul trucks would be reduced somewhat. So with more trucks, but fewer drivers per truck, it is possible that we would end up needing about the same number of drivers as we have now. Here is some analysis to focus your thinking about this problem.

In addition to savings in fuel and in truck and highway maintenance, the Amtruk.org concept produces major savings in labor costs. This is because the time during which the truck is making the long haul amounts to a rest period for the driver. He arrives with his truck at the destination rested and ready to drive.

The best way to understand the impact of Amtruk.org on the driver's job is to focus on the individual owner/operator. Because he is off-duty during the middle part of the trip, the long haul becomes more like a short haul, with additional transport costs for the train ticket.

The possible impact on the driver's job situation depends mostly on three factors:

  1. With the driver (and the truck) resting during the long haul, the truck will be able to make many more miles per month. Will the owner be able to continue charging his customers the same rate and pocket all the savings from this more efficient transport system? To what extent will the customer expect some of the savings to be passed on to him?

  2. Doubtless, the trucking companies will try to find a way to leave their drivers at home base and have another driver pick up the rig on the other end. To what extent will this allow the trucking company to get by with fewer drivers? To what extent will this allow them to lower rates and thus to squeeze out the independent owner/operator?

  3. The improved efficiency of long-haul truck transportation will result in a greater demand for long-haul truck transportation. This will result in more trucks being carried by more trains.

The labor savings that propel the Amtruk.org concept arise from the driver's becoming more efficient. Because he has a long rest interval during each long haul, he stays rested and ready to drive. This allows him to move more loads during a given period of time. He can go straight from one delivery to the next pick up. And then back to the train for another rest period.

Is each driver's ability to move more loads going to squeeze out other drivers? Probably not. The reason is that the improved efficiency and the resulting lower cost will increase the demand for long haul trucking.

Some of those cargoes that today move in long, slow boxcar trips will end up being carried by trucks. If Burlington Northern is smart, they will want to get a piece of the Amtruk.org action. On the other hand, if they want mainly to protect their current monopoly, they will lobby against Amtruk.org. Or maybe they'll do both.

(Aside to BNSF: There is a lot of money to be made with this new railroad, not just from carrying trucks. Just do an estimate of the number of rail-car trips per month. Do a little more market analysis and you'll probably want to start thinking about how to adapt your existing business to this faster environment.)

(Aside to GE: I think we're going to need a lot more locomotives. Fast locomotives.)

The availability of cheaper, faster transport will have another good effect on truckers' jobs. That organic fruit grower will no longer be restricted to markets close to his orchards. As the transportation price point falls and the speed increases, he can profit by increasing his shipments. Marginal products will become viable and geographically limited markets will expand. All this will require more truckers.

On the other side of the coin, the trucking companies will be able to get by with fewer drivers if the trucks are moved on the train without driver accompaniment. (They'll need insurance.) This doesn't undercut the independent owner/operator, because he is basically sleeping on the job during that part of the trip anyway.

His mileage charge gets split into two parts. During the train trip there is a mileage charge to cover the cost of the train transport. This is also paid by the trucking company. But there is no labor component to the mileage charge for the railroad transport, because the driver may as well be home asleep. Once he is back on the highway at rails' end, he picks up his labor mileage charge again. The driver recovers this lost income by being ready to go when the train reaches his destination, and by moving more loads per month as a result of his improved duty cycle.

Anyway, this is just Tom Atwood's thoughts. This business really needs a qualified economist to take this problem apart, analyze all the details, and come up with some believable numbers.