You plan to stop and pick up a few things, so you get your list together, go to the store and pick up what you need. Or, if you’re an online shopper, just a few clicks of the mouse and your order is on its way.
The seemingly simple task of gathering the items you need has an incredibly complicated backstory.
In Iowa alone, freight is moved utilizing:
To help the Iowa Department of Transportation better understand the intricacies of freight movement, Amanda Martin, with our Office of Rail Transportation recently attended the 2017 Freight Academy in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is one of the first Iowans to be accepted into this specific training program.
The experience began with some research and study materials completed before the actual weeklong class began last April. During the class time, Martin, along with more than 30 others involved in managing public sector freight projects, were immersed in classroom learning and field visits to warehousing and shipping facilities. The content was aimed at understanding trends and issues facing the freight industry and decision-makers in the United States and beyond.
Martin said, "I didn’t really know what to expect. We were instructed that we would not have any contact with anyone outside the group during the hours the academy was in session, typically 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. The week was fascinating and I learned so much."
The classroom experience included discussion topics such as freight trends and system reliability discussed by professors from Rutgers University and speakers from top companies, transportation providers, and other transportation professionals in the northeast.
Martin said, "The classroom sessions gave us a good overview of issues from a national perspective. It was very interesting to explore how changes in people’s shopping habits have significantly affected the freight industry. As a society, we’re very demanding. I think many of us take the process for granted when we hop on Amazon or another site and order something with two-day shipping. The supply chain management behind the scenes to get you that blanket, sweater, or even box of crayons in two days are incredible."
To broaden the group’s understanding of freight movements, many field visits were arranged, one of which was to the Port of New York/New Jersey, which recently reported record cargo volume in 2017.
"It was orchestrated chaos," said Martin. "There are so many moving parts and modes working together to make the port function."
One part of the port attendees toured was an automotive shipping company. Martin said, "I had no idea how vehicles are prepared for shipping. There are some luxury vehicle imports that can take up to five years from the date of order to delivery."
In addition to the port, the group toured a Crayola distribution and warehousing facility, a cold storage warehouse and distribution center, and one of Newark airport’s air cargo facilities.
Martin said she came away with a new appreciation for and understanding of freight. To continue the learning process past the week-long experience, smaller groups from within the academy were tasked with completing a capstone project in the months following the classroom and tours.
The group Martin was a part of explored port bottlenecks and how to alleviate them. "We started out with our problem statement and then did research to offer recommendations," said Martin.
With her experience in stakeholder issues at the Iowa DOT, Martin said that was also her focus area for the capstone project. "It was pretty intimidating at first, but once we got into the project it was fascinating."
Martin’s group presented their project to a team of freight industry experts and received their academy certification in December. She said, "Our presentation was very well received, and I believe it will provide some level of guidance for decision-makers going forward."
" After experiencing this academy first hand, I highly recommend that other freight planners and engineers throughout the country make it a goal to attend. It is one of those opportunities that is so unique and well-orchestrated that you will truly gain an understanding of freight in a way that will change your career for the better!" said Martin.