U.S. Grain Transportation Network Needs System Perspective To Meet Future World Needs

CED-81-59: Published: Apr 8, 1981. Publicly Released: May 8, 1981.

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GAO examined the grain transportation system. It identified actual and potential bottlenecks, explained their significance, and explored the status of activities addressing them. The grain transportation system in the United States is complex and interrelated and involves railroads, waterways, roads, and ports. Changes and events in one area affect all others, straining their ability to perform efficiently.

Efforts to improve grain transportation tend to concentrate on individual transportation modes rather than on the transportation network as a whole. An integrated analysis that considers interrelationships between the various components of the grain transportation system has yet to be conducted. An analysis is needed of overall system constraints, interactions, and solutions to prepare for the export industry. Several problems threaten the ability of the grain transportation system to meet future demand: (1) the widely held notion of railcar shortages is symptomatic of a more serious problem, inefficient use of railcars; (2) the proportion of grain moved by truck has increased; (3) waterborne shipments continue to exceed forecasts, and there is widespread concern that the growth of grain exports could be limited by lock and dam constraints; and (4) each major grain exporting port GAO visited was hampered by problems of congestion and inefficiency.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should review the level of resources available for focusing in on the overall transportation system for the purpose of determining what adjustments are warranted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should (1) examine the impact of a changing railroad role in grain movement on alternative modes of transportation and export facilities; (2) explore the relationship of grain shipments via the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes and the capability of the Welland Canal to accommodate projected Great Lakes grain shipments and suggest actions that could be taken to improve movement through the canal; and (3) determine the impact of port congestion and inefficiencies on the entire grain transportation system and help involved parties find solutions to improve overall system effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should (1) expand the monitoring of the grain transportation system to identify potential bottlenecks and analyze their impact on the total grain transportation system; and (2) bring together industry, labor, and Government to explore the best way to alleviate present bottlenecks and forestall future ones.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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