A stark difference in opinion over truck size and weight remains intact between trucking and rail

On one hand, there are carriers, shippers, and other industry stakeholders asking Congress to change the national twin trailer standard from 28 feet to 33 feet, saying that such a move would have myriad benefits along the lines of improving productivity and increased vehicle safety, among other benefits. And on the other hand, is the railroad sector, specifically in the form of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), whom has squelched past attempts by the trucking sector to push through legislation calling for twin-33s and appears to be prepping to do so again.

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As is the case with any good debate, or argument, there is always an argument for something and an argument against something. And this has perhaps never been clearer than when it comes to the matter of motor carriers’ usage of twin 33-foot trailers nationwide.

On one hand, there are carriers, shippers, and other industry stakeholders asking Congress to change the national twin trailer standard from 28 feet to 33 feet, saying that such a move would have myriad benefits along the lines of improving productivity and increased vehicle safety, among other benefits.

And on the other hand, is the railroad sector, specifically in the form of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), whom has squelched past attempts by the trucking sector to push through legislation calling for twin-33s and appears to be prepping to do so again.

For the former, this was made clear recently in a May 7 letter penned by Americans for Modern Transportation (AMT) a concern comprised of shippers, carriers, and retailers focused on improving safety and efficiency of the U.S. transportation system, and modernizing the delivery products throughout the U.S., to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balert (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations subcommittee.

The AMT’s letter, which was signed by several companies such as FedEx, Amazon, UPS, XPO Logistics, the National Retail Federation, and NASSTRAC, among others, called for policies to improve vehicle safety, reduce congestion, lower fuel consumption, and address freight capacity, things they said can be addressed by raising the national twin trailer standard from 28 feet to 33 feet in the FY 2019 THUD Appropriations Bill.

“The benefits of this policy change would immediately improve operations across the nation’s freight network,” AMT explained to Rep. Diaz-Balert. “First, the safety of twin 33-foot trailers is proven, and research has shown that twin 33-foot trailers are more stable and less likely to rollover than twin 28-foot trailers. Second, twin 33-foot trailers will reduce congestion. Without any changes to federal weight restrictions, authorizing twin 33-foot trailers to operate on the national highway network – only where twin 28-foot trailers currently operate – would result in 3.1 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled, 4,500 fewer annual truck crashes, and 53.2 million hours saved due to less congestion. Third, this creative capacity solution would also reduce wear and tear on existing infrastructure.” 

Further adding to its case, AMT wrote that the need for twin-33s is “urgent,” as: the U.S. population has nearly doubled in the past 50 years; there are 75 million more vehicles on the road now than in 1960, e-commerce sales are up from $42 billion in 2002 to $291.8 billion in 2016; and the USDOT estimates that freight volumes will rise 45% by 2045.

“Trying to get twin-33’s approved has been part of a years-long process of trying to help the trucking industry, which has experienced so many burdens of costs as a result of regulation get a little bit of help from the federal government in the form of productivity gains,” said John Cutler, general counsel for NASSTRAC, at the organization’s conference last week.

Not surprisingly, the AAR has a different take on twin-33’s, explaining in a statement on its web site that that Congress already maintains “reasonable limits” on interstate highway system truck sizes at 80,000 pounds and no more than two 28-foot trailers for total length. And it cited a 2016 USDOT study which addressed the impact of increasing current truck size and weight limits, making the determination that there is not a need for federal policy changes on truck size and weights.

“These limits make good sense,” AAR said. “The fuel taxes and other highway-related fees that commercial trucks pay fall far short of covering the costs of the highway damage they cause. Any federal program that increases federal truck size limits will further subsidize commercial highway users at the expense of taxpayers, exacerbate deterioration of crumbling infrastructure and disadvantage a critical freight rail industry. Now proponents are pursuing avenues at the state and federal level to increase federal limits on truck weights from 80,000 pounds to at least 91,000 pounds — a jump of almost 14% in truck weight – while also pushing for Congress to force states to allow double-trailer Twin 33 trucks. Both would lead to more truck freight, which would further stress the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges. At a time when policymakers continue to call for investment into and improvement of the nation’s infrastructure, knowingly taking steps to further damage the nation’s federal highway system is misguided policy.”

AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger has previously stated that increasing truck size and weight would come at the expense of billions to dollars to taxpayers in the form of damaged roads and bridges.

The added truck weight will further destroy precious national infrastructure and cost taxpayers dearly and allowing trucks to be 14% heavier would be a fundamental change to national policy, according to Hamberger.


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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Article Topics

Railroad Freight · Trucking · Twin 33s · All Topics
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