Truck vs Train: Which comes out on top?

Freight transportation represents a large slice of the American GDP. In 2015, spending in the industry totaled $1.48 trillion according to Select USA. With so much riding on freight, it’s no wonder people have strong opinions about it. And there are few debates that near the intensity of the truck vs. rail question.

Should we move American goods on trucks or on trains? Let’s look at the most important factors to answer that question.

Current market share

To put it simply, truck transportation blows rail out of the water in its share of the market today – nearly 70 % of it. That said, the transportation sector as a whole is only growing and rising tides tend to lift all boats. Since the Recession, freight transportation has grown 39.4% and only experienced a few small dips along the way. That means that there is more than enough transportation work to go around.

Respective strengths

If you’re looking to move millions of tons of product in a single day, rail is the way to go.

But if you then need to get that product to a specific plant in Anaheim or a customer in Houston, you’ll need a truck. Nothing beats our system of national roads and highways for its reach and flexibility. There are not many places in the country anymore that aren’t just off a paved road.

In sheer volume, the lumbering, mile-long trains have no competition. But in flexibility, trucks win out.

Quality

At the end of the day, a load making it to Anaheim or Houston two days earlier doesn’t matter too much if the product is corrupted.

The tank cleaning department at KAW follows strict protocols and procedures to keep tankers clean and their loads pure. When it comes to the quality of our washes, we take our responsibility seriously. Our customers haul everything from whiskey to syrup and eggs to flour, so cleanliness is pretty important!

Luckily for everyone who starts their day with eggs and an Irish coffee, both the tank and train industries are subject to strict rules and regulations designed to keep your foods kosher – sometimes literally!

In terms of quality, then, it’s a draw and you can trust your morning scramble to tankers or train cars.

Who wins?

As in all things, context rules the day. For long-distance, large loads, trains are probably the way to go. But for smaller deliveries to specific locations, trucks are best. With a bulk transportation industry that is only growing, what’s certain is that both rail and road will be getting plenty of business in the next several years.

Further reading:

http://www.motherloadtransport.com/articles/trucking-vs-rail/

https://www.bts.gov/content/value-shipments-transportation-mode-2012-2015-and-2045

http://aibonline.org/aibonline_/www.aibonline.org/newsletter/magazine/mar_apr2013/5transportation.pdf