Trains, planes and barge-o-mobiles: Moving St. Louis forward as a global freight hub | St. Louis Public Radio

Trains, planes and barge-o-mobiles: Moving St. Louis forward as a global freight hub

Jun 20, 2018

National freight volume is expected to grow significantly over the next 30 years according to regional leaders who want to ensure that St. Louis captures a share of the increase in traffic. Mary Lamie is one of them, and she’s hopeful about the possibilities ahead considering the Gateway City’s existing infrastructure and assets.

“We are strategically located in the United States for freight movements,” Lamie, the executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway, said Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air. “We’re home to six Class I railroads, four interstates, two international air-cargo airports – and we have some of the best manufacturing logistics supply chains within the nation.”

She joined host Don Marsh for a discussion of the many efforts underway to advance the St. Louis region as a global freight hub.

Mike McCarthy, president of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, and Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America’s Central Port, also participated in the discussion.

Wilmsmeyer was quick to highlight one especially significant asset that St. Louis has going for it when it comes to potentially expanding its role in America’s freight industry: the Mississippi River.

“Flowing right here through the heart of the country, [it] moves so much freight up and down that river system … one barge that is floating on the river holds 22 railcars or the same amount as 88 trucks,” he said. “A lot of traffic flows through there.”

Regional freight leaders (from left) Dennis Wilmsmeyer, Mary Lamie and Mike McCarthy discussed the key role that St. Louis could play in the evolving world of logistics.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

McCarthy added that “even though [the region’s various freight-oriented entities] compete on a lot of products, we also know we’re integral to each other’s business,” and there’s a regional push to work together on priority projects.

One of those is the aging Merchants Bridge rail bridge that spans the Mississippi a few miles north of downtown. Completed in 1889, it’s been in continuous service since.

“It’s come to the point where we need to replace that bridge,” McCarthy said. “So we’re working very hard on financing to get that bridge replaced here in the next few years, and hopefully that all comes together.”

Another effort requiring regional collaboration has to do with what the three guests described on the show as “first-mile” and “last-mile” infrastructure improvements.

“That’s where the challenge is … when [shippers on road, river or rail] get to a hub, when they get to a node where they’ve got to do that transfer from one mode [of transport] to the other,” McCarthy explained. “A lot of that infrastructure dates back to World War I and World War II.”

On a global level, the bi-state region’s two international air-cargo airports offer a wealth of opportunity for growth, according to Lami.

“If there is fresh produce being shipped out of Mexico, and those flights traditionally are flying into Miami, there’s opportunity for those flights to come directly to the St. Louis region,” she said. “And by doing that, it’s reducing the transportation time, because instead of that cargo getting shipped into Miami and then being trucked to the St. Louis region, it’s basically saving almost a day-and-a-half of time, which is adding additional lifespan to the fresh produce.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.