A recent article in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution focused on trucking and how cargo is moved throughout the metropolitan area. And with good reason. Nearly twice a day, almost on cue with the snarling traffic along Atlanta’s highways, hundreds of truck drivers swerve into Norfolk Southern’s Inman Yard to pick up or drop off containers full of computers, auto parts and other goods.
By noon, some 400 truckers will unload up to four trains, each about a mile long, loaded with goods headed for Atlanta’s malls, factories and construction sites. At about 3 p.m., the tide reverses. An equally large stream of truckers rolls into the northwest Atlanta railyard, pulling bus-sized metal boxes packed with consumer goods and other items headed for every point on the compass, from Asia to Europe.
The nightly exodus of intermodal traffic won’t slack off until well after the evening rush hour ends.
Each day, hundreds of trucks carry about $8 out of every $10 worth of all goods originating in Georgia in 1997, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey released last year. Truckers also transported nearly 90 percent of the 374 million tons shipped from the state that year.
Trucks, along with trains rumbling in and out of Atlanta, account for a lion’s share of the state’s cargo movement. The city is a regional power in the physical movement and distribution of goods.
While Chicago is said to be the undisputed railroad capital of the U.S., some people say that Atlanta is a global cargo-handling powerhouse.
"Some people say that Atlanta is the largest inland port in the world," Georgia State University economist Donald Ratajczak told the newspaper. "We have better access to experts in the particular areas."
Experts say that it’s Atlanta’s long history as a trade crossroads that positions the city well to prosper from the continuing drive toward global markets and electronic commerce.
"This is a transportation-based metropolitan area," said Ratajczak. "It’s what Atlanta is."
And will continue to be, he and others say.
The trend towards global production of goods and lowered trade barriers, such as those under the North American Free Trade Agreement, mean more shipping of parts and finished products, says Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a geography professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., who studies globalization’s role behind the shipping activity in the future. Atlanta will manage that freight, he told the paper. "You have thousands of parts from all over the continent and all over the world, and of course, that has to be shipped," he says.
Likewise, the volume of intermodal cargo shipped between Asia, the United States and Europe continues to grow rapidly, he adds.
"All those trends point toward more shipping activity in the future, and Atlanta will manage that freight."