Friday, November 18, 2011

The future of transportation

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.



  1. US Military logistics preach the rule of ten incessantly.

    Type Cost
    Ship 1x
    Railroad 10x
    Truck 100x
    Plane 1000x
    Helicopter 10000x

  2. Moving cargo is going to be a major enterprise, we are so used to 'just in time' deliveries of what we have available to us.

    I always wondered how it would have been to live on a houseboat like many swampers did during the Great Depression. When you get rid of the crap and only keep the essentials, you really don't need a lot.

    I remember reading a 1970's article in Mother Earth News, of some people who purchased a very used freight barge, and secured to a secluded inlet along a river. They built a small brick home on it, gardened along the near shoreline and did some wildlife foraging - sounds like a pretty cool life!

  3. I guess they will have to build a lot more canals in the future. That will give donkeys something to do.

  4. Actually, this makes a lot of sense to me! We started out using canals and river barges and the like, so we could go back if we had to!

    The way the post office is going, we are maybe closer than we know!

  5. Here in the Puget Sound, a sailor is using the wind for that very purpose.
    You can read about it here.

  6. Very similar scows were widely used on the Texas coast. The only one left in existence is at the Texas Maritime Museum in Rockport.