News / USA

In Fast-Moving World, Slow-Going Barges Ply US Waterways

Barges haul about 5 percent of the nation’s bulk tonnage

A small, but mighty, tugboat pushes a barge loaded with coal up the Ohio River, past downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
A small, but mighty, tugboat pushes a barge loaded with coal up the Ohio River, past downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

Multimedia

Audio
Ted Landphair

These days, words like “speed,” “flexibility,” and “high-tech” describe the American culture - and a lot of the nation’s business operations.



But not one that’s based on the nation’s inland rivers.

The companies that control the 21,000 barges that towboats and tugboats push and pull along big rivers such as the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee in America’s midsection have none of those attributes.

Barges move ever so slowly - about 9.5 kilometers [6 miles] an hour. There’s not much flexibility in what they do: the rivers are where they are, and strings of 60-meter [195-foot]-long barges get to their destination in their own sweet time.

This is one of four massive barges that broke away from their towboat on the Ohio River last April. One sank.
This is one of four massive barges that broke away from their towboat on the Ohio River last April. One sank.

Or late, due to floods, low water, or problems that arise in the old and creaky locks along the big rivers.

There’s a lot of waiting and patience involved in the barge business, in other words.  

About the only high-tech features involve safety onboard and coordination of delivery of coal, chemicals, and grain from their source to river ports for loading.  

Otherwise, the barges that carry about 1,700 tons of cargo apiece - 15 times the tonnage of a railcar and 40 times more than a truck can carry - are pretty much the same as they were in the 1920s.

That’s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dredging America’s large inland waterways to create deep channels to accommodate barge traffic.

A long barge, full of coal and pushed by a tug, makes the tricky turn around one of the bends in the Cumberland River in Kentucky.
A long barge, full of coal and pushed by a tug, makes the tricky turn around one of the bends in the Cumberland River in Kentucky.

Barges haul about five percent of the nation’s bulk tonnage, and business is relatively good.

Grain production has been booming, although more and more of the nation’s corn stays put on dry land for conversion to ethanol.

And the Ohio, in particular, is still jammed with coal barges feeding coal-fired power plants along the river.

But lucrative traffic in containers arriving from overseas has mostly bypassed the rivers in favor of roads, despite the higher cost of trucks and trains. Why?  Because, unlike barge companies and captains, container shippers and their customers are in a hurry.

You May Like

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid