Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory. BTS. Containerization International.
The North American Intermodal Rail System
The North American rail transport system shows a high level of geographical
specialization with large rail carriers servicing large regional markets.
Each carrier has its
own facilities and thus its own markets along
the segments it controls. The rail system is the outcome of substantial
capital investments occurring over several decades with the accumulation
of impressive infrastructure and equipment assets. However, such a characteristic
created issues about continuity within the North American rail network,
particularly in the United States. Mergers have improved this continuity
but a limit has been reached in the network size of most rail operators.
Attempts have been made to synchronize the interactions between rail
operators for long distance trade with the setting of intermodal unit
trains. Often bilateral, trilateral or even quadrilateral arrangements
are made between rail carriers and shipping companies to improve the
intermodal interface at the major gateways or at points of interlining
between major networks. Chicago is the largest interlining center in
North America, handling around 10 million TEUs per year, a location
at the junction of the Eastern, Western and Canadian rail systems.
Starting with the setting of NAFTA in 1994 rail mergers resulted
in the involvement of Canadian and American operators offering
cross-border services. Canadian National and Canadian Pacific
acquired lines in the United States enabling better connections with
the Chicago hub as well as with New Orleans when CN purchased the
Illinois Central Railroad in 1998. Also in 1998 Kansas City Southern
purchased Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana to form Kansas City
Southern de Mexico, which links the port of Lazaro Cardenas to
Kansas City and passes through the main economic centers of Mexico
(Mexico City, Monterrey). The outcome is a more integrated North
American rail system.