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Trucks vs Trains: making truckers pay more won't work

By: David H. Bradley

Date: Friday, 04. August 2006

The trucking industry has come under unfair attack recently for use of Ontario's highway system. The contention is that if more freight moved by rail, congestion on Greater Toronto Area(GTA) highways would be reduced. In addition to being based on a distorted view of the facts, this notion ignores the real reason why most Ontario businesses prefer trucking to rail.

Rail is cheaper than truck, but it cannot provide the level of service demanded by today's just-in-time inventory systems, synchronous manufacturing processes and express retail delivery.

The trucking industry's commitment to service and its ability to meet shipper demands is what has made it number one.

Does it make sense, then, to hamstring the mode of freight transport that best meets the needs of the economy to try and prop up another mode, whose service applies to a specific market segment (long haul, less time-sensitive shipment of bulk commodities) but cannot provide the service needed by value-added, goods-producing industries?

The arguments employed by the advocates of modal shift rely on some popular myths espoused by the railway industry, notably by the president of the Railway Association in the Star on Jan. 9. He said that:

Trucks are not a chief cause of congestion and gridlock in the GTA. There are a lot more cars than trucks on the road, especially at peak traffic volumes.

Weather and accidents also play a significant role in gridlock. A recent report conducted for Transport Canada found that even if rail were being used at full capacity to haul freight, it would remove less that 0.5 per cent of traffic volume in passenger car equivalents on Highway 401 in the GTA.

Investment in additional highway capacity is seen as a bad thing. Road users are called "free riders" and it is argued that the costs of highways are "often free" to motorists and truckers alike. (Are other government services funded by the taxpayer such as health care and education also free)? User pay is the way to go - unless you are talking about transit riders.

But Ontario motorists are paying significantly more in road-related fees than is being invested in highways.

Combined, the provincial and federal governments bring in about $6 billion a year in revenues from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. The Provincial Highway Management Program budget is about $1 billion. The federal government has no highway fund.

The revenues from Ontario fuel taxes and registration fees generated from truckers alone pay for at least 85 per cent of the provincial highway program costs. We think that is more than a fair share.

Road users are not only paying for the highways, they are also making a major contribution to all other government-provided services. Trucks pay about three times the rate of tax on their diesel fuel compared to rail diesel.

If modal shift occurs, will the railways make up the shortfall in government revenues that is certain to occur? Groups like the railway association claim to be champions for more investment in commuter rail and public transit, but are they prepared to review the significant rental and maintenance fees the railways charge services like GO Transit for use of their rail lines? No, they want the road user to pay the shot.

They want motorists to pay more tolls and more for parking, gasoline and automobiles.

Other arguments - e.g., trucks do most of the damage to highways; the Europeans have found a way to shift freight from truck to rail; and more rail means less air pollution, are also inconsistent with the evidence.

Our freeze-thaw cycles are the chief cause of pavement damage. Environmental laws in both Canada and the United States mandate that by the fall of 2006, the smog-causing emissions from heavy truck diesel fuel and new heavy truck engines will be virtually eliminated. (Railways are exempt from such laws in Canada).

Despite taxes, weight restrictions and other punitive measures imposed on trucks by some European countries, the growth of trucking is still outpacing rail.

The reason, as cited by the OECD, for example, is the same as it is here - superior performance on just-in-time delivery.

David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association

Further comments to this article have been disabled.

All Comments (32)

Showing 1 - 32 comments

Samuel Jenkins,

Great post! I bookmarked your site.



You didn't even touch on the fuel consumption of trucks though. Trains can get up to 475 mpgs while trucks only get about 12 mpgs.


There needs to be a balance of power between the two modes.

Regulations and policies need to change in washington so short-haul movements can make it worth while for the truckers

Shifting long-haul freight(>500mi) to rail would mean less taxes spent on long highways like I-80,I-40, & I-95 and putting more of that money towards improving urban highways and Rail Infrastructure.






in the USA, railroads consume 8% of the fuel for transportation, yet, move 40% of the freight in the US. I'd say, let's use 16% to move 80% of freight. I agree with more use of rail service, less pollutants, less wear n' tear on the roads, decrease the danger with large trucks mixed with small cars on the roads.


First of all 4-wheeler, I would be willing to doubt that you have never stepeed foot into a semi. If you have not, ask to do a ride-along! Most companies have a ride-along program. Go see what they deal with on a daily basis. You will be surprised to see that most of what they deal with (driver aggression) is an adverse reaction to a 4-wheeler trying to occupy the same 20' of space on a highway that is already being occupied by a 72' vehicle. At 60 MPH, it takes over 4 football fields to stop, on dry roads. At 65 MPH, its 5 football fields ( So before you start slamming the trucking industry, remember this: everything you touch, everything you purchase, everything in your house, everything in your closet, everything you eat, drink, and sleep on, got to you because of a truck driver. Sure, there is a rotten apple in the bunch, but the 1 apple to 10000 professional drivers does not mean then entire industry is rotten apples. Dont characterize everyone because of the actions of one. As a former truck driver who now is responsible for 171 drivers of my own, believe me, even the littlest of incidents are major when it comes to the safety of the motoring public. Safety is something that is taken VERY seriously. These professional drivers have the same goal everyone esle does: when their job is done (12-24 days of being away from their familes) to be with their loved ones. You get to see them every night. They have chosen a life that they dont get that opportunity, so when that time comes, they want to be able to see them as well.


trains rule!!! Ilike them so I collect them

4 wheeler,

This is to truckers view

Just about every dangerous situation and every bad experience I have ever had I can attribute to truckers. It is common and an inside joke with truckers that you goons tailgate small vehicles in order to intimidate them and blind them at night. Your list of gripes is BS! goon. It is everyones responsibility to drive responsibly but it is ON THE TRUCKER to not wield his massive metal as a weapon and thats just what you apes do. Now heres the true list


1) try to pass each other on inclines in order to tie the road up
2) dont pass cars until they are within a car length of the vehicle
3) wait for a car to be equal with them and then speed up
4) trucks roll fast down hill then slow up a grade creating a cyclical velocity. You CANNOT expect cars to do the same. Cars use cruise control to conserve so it is ON YOU to be aware on this situation
5) trucks are in every way aggressive by nature and truckers know this. They use their size to force their will on cars.

One point I agree on. Most people are idiots when entering a highway on the entrance ramp, but they are ignorant, not malevolent. Like you


u people dony know what ur talking about trains can go much faster than trucks tttttttrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaains


Trains rule!!!!!!!

Trucker's View,

One more thing. Sure, build more railways!!! Then YOU ALL can start riding the train rather than driving your cars, while refusing to carpool, and polluting our environment. Leave the roads to the truckers who need them and drive more safely and who contribute the majority of the funds used to build and repair them.

OK, I'm done.

Trucker's View,

Just some stats on cars vs trucks

The trucking industry contributes an estimate of $21.4 billion to operate on U.S. roads and highways.

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) releases data about truck accidents, which is then published by many organizations as truck accident statistics.

ONLY 3.6% of all reported crashes involved a large truck.

12% (twelve percent) of all traffic fatalities in the United States are caused because of truck accidents.

Contrary to popular belief, more than 75% of truck accidents are caused, not by the truck driver, but because of an error of the driver of other smaller vehicles involved in the crash.

In 2006, there were 57,943 total vehicle accidents involved in fatal crashes in the U.S. (NCSA). Only 8.1% involved a truck.

Only 1 percent of fatal truck accidents were DUI-related on the part of the truck driver compared to other types of fatal crashes. Higher DUI occurrences are 22 percent for drivers of passenger vehicles and light trucks and 29 percent for motorcyclists.

In 1998, large trucks accounted for 7% of the total vehicle miles...

The results of the TIFA analysis showed the passenger vehicle driver to be more than three-times as likely to be a contributor to the crash.

The passenger car driver was a contributor in 81% of the FATAL crashes and the ONLY contributor in 70% of the crashes.

In contrast, the truck driver had a coded driver-related factor in 27% of the fatal crashes and was the sole contributor in 16% of the crashes.

Trucker's View,

You gripe about trucks damaging "your" roads? In reality, truckers pay an enormous amount for those roads and truckers pay to repair them. The roads are not YOURS. Funding for building and maintaining roads comes from tax dollars. EVERY trucker pays the same tax dollar per centage of their income as you do. AND they pay MUCH, MUCH more.

You buy your gas and go anywhere you want for free unless you pay a toll. If you pay $1.00 toll, a trucker pays $15--$20 for the same distance.

You drive to any state you want for free. A trucker pays ADDITIONAL tax dollars to every state driven in for every mile driven in that state AND/OR for every gallon on fuel purchased in that state.

You buy your license plate and go anywhere you want for free. A trucker buys a plate and/or a permit for EVERY state driven in. Your plate fee ranges from $50--$120 and truckers pay at least 10 times that to EVERY state they drive in.

EVERYTHING you have, and I mean EVERYTHING, was delivered by a trucker. You want trucks off of the road? You will end up without even a computer to use to complain about the trucks.

Do you really think transporting goods by train reduces the number of trucks on the road? Those goods STILL have to be transported from the rail yard to a warehouse or store. How much longer are you willing to wait and how much more are you willing to pay for the personnel, equipment, and space required by the rail yard to load and unload every trailer, the space required to store the trailer until a TRUCKER can pick it up?

You want to stop "just in time" delivery? Then you will pay MUCH more for the same items to cover the cost of the additional land, buildings, utilities, insurance, security, and personnel to build and maintain this inventory stock.

You complain about too many trucks on the road? How about complaining about too many cars on the road? When are the four wheelers going to cut down on the massive pollution they contribute and start more car pooling?

When are the four wheelers going to learn to stay OUT of the lanes designated for trucks only?

When are the four wheelers going to learn that a truck needs a long distance to stop, that a truck cannot swerve out of your way?

When are four wheelers going to learn how dangerous it is to drive next to a truck?

When are the states going to require that EVERY driver learn HOW to share the road with truckers?

When are four wheelers going to learn how to enter and exit interstate highways -- ESPECIALLY when there are trucks on the road?

Trucks are never going away. Four wheelers need to learn to give EVERY truck the safe space it needs on the road.

Don't pull directly in front of them when you pass.

Don't sit beside a truck.

Don't tail gate a truck.

Realize that if a truck is in the left lane when you are entering a freeway, there is a REASON for that--probably the truck CAN'T move over for you because there is some four wheeler driving right next to it on the right.

And YES, PLEASE, give truckers their own roads. Let four wheelers build and maintain their own roads with their own funds.

TRUCKS don't run into each other. Four wheelers do. TRUCKS don't cause accidents at anywhere NEAR the rate that four wheelers cause accidents.

And um, how many drunk four wheelers are on the road at any given moment? Or talking on a cell phone? Putting on make up? READING, too, (I've seen this personally? Eating? Looking in the back seat for something?

Professional drivers spend 10--15 hours a day, every day, driving, observing ignorant four wheelers doing idiotic things around them every minute and yet, THEY don't have any where NEAR the number of accidents that four wheelers have--ESPECIALLY considering that most truckers drive from 200,000 to 400,000 miles EVERY year.

Professional drivers lose their jobs if they have accidents. Four wheelers just buy another car--which, by the way, was delivered by a safe trucker.


they are just unsafe to be travelling at that speed on the 2 lane transcanada highway and worst is there's tons of them.... if they twinned the trans canada that would help the roads be safer to share but we're getting into this environmental issue and fuel prices have increased in recent years... I think we should start thinking about shifting long haul trucking to rail and build more rail lines and eventually upgrade to electric trains... Europe did it, so can we.... The stupidest thing they did was shift most freight from rail to truck 30 years ago and railroad abandonments was another stupid idea.... Trucks should have their own roads entirely if there should be that many on the road

Brian Rebbechi,

The horrific damage that trucks do to highways increases exponentially with speed.Allowing trucks to do 60 mph and upwards is national lunacy.

Ice, moisture variations in Southern California are much less a factor than in other parts of North America yet 60 mph trucks still mangle the pavements in an amazingly short time.

The economics studies need too factor in the damage done to all other vehicles forced to travel on damaged, cracked surfaces.

The political influence of the trucking industry is so powerful that it gives truckers the greatest free ride in the history of earth.

What's necessary is to prohibit drivers being paid on a miles basis. If drivers are paid by the hour, it would remove the urge to exceed speed limits and also discourage cowboys who drive their trucks like a crazy hotrod.

I can't understand how trucking companies avoid massive liability payout when theydestroy life and property while exceeding the speed limit.

All trucks should carry black box technology. It's cheap and investigators would have good information to go after perpetrators who drive idiotically and get involved in crashes.

Brian Rebbechi


In its recent TV ad, rail company CSX says its trains can transport 1 ton for 426 miles on 1 gallon of fuel. Doubt if a truck can do that!


A train can move one ton of freight 206 miles on one gallon of fuel. A truck can move one ton of fright only 59 miles on one gallon of fuel. The trucking industry has been using the same argument since their birth but the truth is there is no comparison on fuel consumption, pollution, efficiency, and speed. And to also cry foul about how railroads are not and will not be further regulated on pollution standards is another false argument. Refer to the above fact. Railroads are not being further regulated because they are already way ahead in pollution control.


Like Bryan said trucks will never be replaced (completely) by rail. However Trains should completely eliminate long haul trucking. A hybrid system where trains transport goods to hubs and trucks take them to their destinations will be the best.


Ask any highway engineer how much damage freight trucks cause to roads in proportion to passenger cars - every engineer in the transportation business knows that a lone 6-axle semi-trailer rig causes as much damage to a stretch of rigid pavement as 440,000 passenger cars. There is simply no way around this fact.

Freeze-thaw is indeed a significant source of pavement damage,but freeze-thaw is the fault of no one, and considering the ridiculous disparity between passenger car damage and freight truck damage, equitable-minded people really have no choice but to significantly increase taxes on freight trucks if they wish to maintain their roadways.

Freight trucks cannot be entirely replaced by rail - department stores will not and cannot set up miniature rail terminals at every location, and there are many goods which simply cannot use the rail network because of time constraints that may or may not have to do with time sensitivity of the product being transported.

Someone has to pay for the upkeep of the roads, and it only makes common sense for those who do the most damage to pay a corresponding amount for its repair. If taxes are applied fairly across the board, trucking companies have little reason to fear increased costs of operation. Trucks are the only freight transportation mode available in many places, and companies with responsive supply chains and/or small order lot sizes won't be able to use rail because that kind of business is simply not what rail does.

Increasing pavement thickness by a few inches exponentially increases the amount of damage it can take. Using more tires on trucks also decreases the amount of damage they cause per run. A few simple measures will suffice to at least partially alleviate the problem of pavement damage.

In summary, trucks are a necessary part of the economy and cannot be replaced rail, and even a several hundred percent increase in shipping costs may not affect the trucking industry very strongly. Nevertheless the highways must be repaired by those damage it most, and it is painfully obvious that freight trucks cause so much more damage to the roads so as to push passenger car contributions into the realm of irrelevence.


Jeff, all other facts I read tell me trucks get about 120tonne miles per gallon , where did you get your numbers from

Jeff Lanthripp,

I guess Mr. Bojangles doesn't like food, clothes, houses, or pretty much anything else - he wants to live outdoors, cold, naked and hungry. Or maybe he wants to build a railroad up to the back of every store in the country.

As for ruining the highways, hey - we pay for them (fuel taxes, operating authority fees, etc. etc.)

BTW, the engines in trucks are MUCH cleaner than trains. Trains are exempt from virtually all the emissions controls mandated on trucks, including the use of Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel. Trucks get about 250-300 tonne-miles per gallon of diesel. Trains get about 400 - but they put out about 40 times as much particulate matter, 20 times as much NOx, etc. per gallon burned because they use the "dirty" fuel.


I live in northern Ontario on the highway 11 corridor and I find theres way too many trucks on the roads... I hate sharing the road with them, in the winter especially... It's not just the bad weather I hate, it's those god damn trucks that won't slow down!!! I love trains and I want to see way more trains and see a lot less trucks on the roads... They are ruining our highways!!! I'd rather have them take their time to ship by rail than have highway trucks deliver faster.... I hope the government takes actions against trucks on our highways.... They should make the speed limits 10km/h less for the trucks on the highway... for example, make it 80km/h for trucks in a 90 zone!!! Trucks are the main danger on the highways, especially those who speed!!!


I am 45 years old and am just now thinking of becoming a professional long haul driver after loosing my job of 20 years. The Argument about trains vs. trucks is benign. It's politicizing an environmental issue and putting the economic stability of consumerism at peril. Delivering consumer sensitive goods (perishable/non-perishable) in a timely manner needs transport trucking and trains. The issue about the traffic congestion would be better addressed by the Provincial Government. Colored permits for domestic vehicles that travel into large metropolitan ares could become mandatory. It would generate revenue from those who CHOOSE to bring their vehicle into the City; Green for Mondays; Yellow for Tuesdays, etc., and an optional WEEKEND permit. The nay-sayers of such a proposal should examine the reasons why they wouldn't participate and why they might lobby against it.

It's like having cameras everywhere ...we're getting use to it, and only those who are breaking the law or behaving in a socially unacceptable way have the most to complain about.


Hey Dennis, there's not much point in responding to Bojangles in any rational way. (His) comment reads like he's an immature kid who doesn't really have much intelligent to say about anything.

Many car drivers just don't get it with trucks. They dont' know how to relate to them and they don't understand how important trucks are in getting stuff to their homes and their local stores.

However, the railroads need to smarten up, otherwise congestion will make truckers lives unbearable


I seat here and read all the responses ,but one got my eye is Mr. Bojangles comment ,one thing i have to say only and if you can get it thats fine ,try to imagine those that YOU call stupid do HAVE a family and NEEDS ,now put yourself driving with 90 kph and some "SKILL DRIVER" cuts in front of a TRUCK like he owns the road with his 3650 lbs car ,when the truck alone is almost 100000 lbs .....
Thats what i thought, so please think before you do/say something about truck drivers .......
Bad apples are everywhere ........
And to say something about truck vs trains ,they all have the right to be there ,different loads different ways different approach ....
And finally i quote 1) "Trucks fuel the economy."
2)Combined, the provincial and federal governments bring in about $6 billion a year in revenues from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.

What else can i say, thank you for your time ......

Mr. Bojangles,

trucks are dangerous and should be removed from all of North Americas highways. Truck drivers are so stupid they don't know the difference between a clean efficient train and some stupid polluting trucks. Down with stupid illiterate truck drivers!

Kris McKinnon,

Do we sacrifice just in time delivery for more Oxides of Nitrogen, Volatile organic compounds, Particulate matter, Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide outputs in the air? Can we really put a price on our delicate atmosphere just so a truck full of Nike shoes get to footlocker on time? I guess it deppends on where you place your values but this author needs to do some more research.


Are you kidding?! Trains are MUCH more Efficient than trucks. Trucks have to spend a lot of energy turning their rubber wheels, constantly going up steep grades, and starting and stopping frequently. Trains steel wheels on steel rails are much easier to push. A combination of trains and tuck using containers can be used to optimize the benefits of each mode of transportation

Andrew Addair,

Trucks would be able to carry these large loads more efficiantly than trains, and make better time. Trucks fuel the economy.


I agree, if 200 trucks were traveling like that they would beat the hell out of the highways! It is bad enough with those trucks on the road now. I would rather be stuck at a railroad crossing than sharing the road with 200 big trucks going 65 mph!


Rail is more productive when transporting large commodities such as grain, coal, and other bulky items. They are also more rffective when hauling containers, trailers, and chemicals. Which would you rather have, a convoy of 200 trucks traveling to the same place at the same time or 1 double stack train? I would go for the double stack train!

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