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The North American Landbridge
Rail freight in the United States has experienced a remarkable growth since deregulation in the 1980s (Staggers Act) with a 77% increase in tons-km between 1985 and 2003. A significant share of this transformation concerns the emergence of long distance rail freight corridors linking the two major gateway systems of North America; Southern California and New York/New Jersey via Chicago. The North-American Landbridge represents the most efficient Landbridge in the world, which considerably reduces distances between the East and the West coasts, also includes a Canadian (Vancouver-Montreal-Halifax) and a Mexican section (Salina Cruz-Coatzacoalos). Several connectors linking specific regions and networks are to be considered. As opposed to the Eurasian landbridge, the American landbridge has the advantage of providing a transcontinental link through a single country (Canada, USA or Mexico). Thus, the North American landbridge is mainly the outcome of growing transpacific trade and has undergone the containerized revolution; container traffic represented approximately 80% of all rail intermodal moves. Landbridges are particularly the outcome of a cooperation between rail operators eager to get lucrative long distance traffic, maritime shippers eager to reduce shipping time and costs, particularly from Asia and freight forwarders looking at options to service the needs of their customers.
With the North American landbridge, an alternative to freight shipments across the Panama Canal is thus available. For instance, a container coming from Singapore takes 36 days to reach New York using the Panama Canal sea route (the average figure is about 21 days between Asia and the East Coast). The same journey takes 19 days if the Landbridge is used (Double-stack rail transport using the Seattle-Chicago-New York rail chain). On average, transport services between the East Coast of the United States and Pacific-Asia are reduced from 6 days to 2 weeks depending on the case. The North-American Landbridge is also competing for a market share of the traffic between Europe and Asia. It requires for maritime shippers on average from 5 to 6 weeks to service the harbors of Tokyo and Rotterdam. With the Landbridge, this time is reduced to about 3 weeks with an 6 days railway journey across North America. Yet, this option is not much used as post panamax containership using the Suez Canal is the most cost effective and reliable option to service European markets. It takes about 3.8 days to connect Los Angeles and Chicago and an additional 2.8 days to connect Chicago to New York. Alternatively, the Vancouver - Chicago connection takes about 6 days with the new Prince Rupert - Chicago link that can be done in about 4 days because of the lack of congestion, both at the port and along the long distance rail corridor.
With the landbridge service, several maritime companies abandoned the Panama Canal and were able to shift to post panamax class containerships for trans-pacific services. Their productivity increased and long distance shipping costs were reduced proportionally as maritime shippers were able to use larger ships with a higher level of frequency of services. A higher capacity can thus be achieved with the same number of ships. Yet, the landbridge is facing challenges as labor and capacity issues along the West Coast have incited maritime shipping companies to rely more on the all-water route to service East Coast ports. The expansion of the Panama Canal is also expected to impact the North American landbridge by making the usage of East Coast ports to service the hinterland more cost effective.