I’m a big fan of moving things by water. If you aren’t in a great hurry, it’s about the cheapest way there is to transport cargo. Plenty of freight moves by water and it’ll get only more important in the future.
Air travel is one major fuel cost spike away from being a tiny niche market for the rich. Trucking is also susceptible to the price of fuel. Deterioration of roads and bridges is already hurting the industry. Rail is pretty efficient, but don’t expect major expansions of the system. What we have now is pretty much what we’ll have in the future -if we can keep even that. Everyone is tight for money.
Water transportation has its problems too. Many working harbors have been bought up for fancy waterfront condos. Can’t have those stinky working class boats cluttering up the view. Harbor facilities are susceptible to big storms. Harbors silt up. There are only so many good deep harbors in the world.
There are low tech, old fashioned boats that could take up the slack. If their main system of propulsion is by sail, all the better. Check out this reconstruction of a scow. The Crystal River Boat Builders are building a copy of this old Civil War era 36 foot boat. It sails, has a flat bottom, good cargo capacity, and shallow draft. I can see cousins of this boat plying their trade up and down the coasts and rivers.
Of course, you could put an efficient little diesel engine in it, or maybe even solar panels and electric propulsion. Boats like this could supply towns and cities that lack good harbors and do it cheaply. It could be run up on a beach, unloaded, then floated off again with no harm done. Shallow draft boats could haul cargo far up rivers too shallow for conventional boats.
The key to future transportation just might draw heavily from our past.
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