The seamless and streamlined transport of goods to market has become a reality in Southern California. It begins in an Asian port, where a container of goods is loaded onto a post-Panamax-sized ship. The deep-draft vessel is scheduled to reach the Port of Long Beach on a specific date. The port has been dredged deep enough to allow the loaded ship to reach the dock. Upon arrival, cargo is swiftly unloaded onto trains that speed through urban areas to their destination, thanks to the recently completed Alameda Corridor.

Elsewhere in the country, chronic freight congestion is still very much an issue, with traffic expected to double by 2010. Rosy scenarios similar to California's are the ultimate goal of wish-list projects that would streamline connections between transport modes. Three of the higher-profile jobs are a proposed $1-billion rail tunnel beneath New York Harbor, a $700-million trench in Reno, Nev., and a $60-million intermodal crossing in Norfolk, Va.

SEALING Rail car, ship containers will likely have electronic seals in future. (Photo courtesy of Savi Technologies)

But because of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, builders now must worry about the freight being carried. In addition to building infrastructure to streamline transport of goods, owners must now minimize the chance that they are also transporting bombs.

"The problem with the intermodal system is that since no security was built into it in the first place; there is no baseline to point to in order to establish a sense of confidence should we have a catastrophic event," says Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York City. Should there be one incident, he says, the fear is "if this box went off, why not all the rest of them?"

Several U.S. initiatives on maritime-related security have emerged in the past few months. One example is the U.S. Custom Service's 24-hour rule, which mandates cargo manifests to the port of call 24 hours before the cargo is loaded. Container tracking tests are taking place for ports and rail, and one–the Smart and Secure Tradelanes initiative–will address the entire intermodal chain. But many problems must be solved.

"We're monitoring what the modal organizations are doing for inconsistencies," says Joni Casey, president of the Intermodal Association of North America. "At the end of the day the issue is who the responsible parties are in an interchange [of cargo]. For example, between a dredge carrier and a trucker picking up a load, who has responsibility for forwarding that information? That's yet to be determined." She says U.S. Customs is looking at how to apply port-related requirements to other modes.

For now, ports around the country are installing a mix of detection and security systems. As a freight train rolls through the Alameda Corridor, a scanner inside a trackside hut records data transmitted from tags affixed to the train's cargo containers. The Port of Baltimore recently installed a portable $1-million gamma ray detector. In New York, Coast Guard surveillance cameras will be updated to identify ships 30 miles away.

Airports also are active. A recently completed federally sponsored field test utilized biometric "smart cards" to confirm the identities of truckers and aviation cargo handlers at Chicago's O'Hare and New York's John F. Kennedy international airports.

Designers and consultants are broadening their scope of services to help their clients pursue these technologies. "Our consultants now have to ratchet up what they've been doing," says Jim White, director of the Maryland Port Administration. "More of our design plans are being affected and...we'll be looking to them to control this."

Port planners received a much-needed $104 million in security-related grants this year to go along with updated U.S. Coast Guard guidelines. They're also waiting for definitive criteria from a just-launched Dept. of Homeland Security.

Consultants are trying to adapt to a rap-idly changing scope of work. "One of the cumbersome issues related to that is that the grant applications all go in at the same time and the grants are announced at the same time," says David Cruz, port planner for Long Beach, Calif.-based Moffatt & Nichol Engineers. That means multiple new projects at once for firms with several port clients.

While many U.S. airports are still reeling from lowered traffic and a consequent construction slowdown, major ports are seeing upswings in both traffic and construction. But already tight budgets are now under pressure for additional security-related expenses.


Despite stop-orders by the European Union, its major ports continue to join the U.S. in the Smart and Secure Tradelanes project. Last month, officials demonstrated in Seattle new electronic seals on cargo containers. Transponders sent automated alerts to a global software network about each tagged container's identity, location and security status.

At the demo, a handheld device unsealed two containers shipped from Hong Kong to Seattle. The seals store data about the container's stops. Alerts are given in case of illegal tampering.

TRACKING Electronic seals send information to screen about container history. (Photo courtesy of Savi Technologies)

Two hundred containers have been shipped in the $10-million first phase, says Lance Trebesch, vice president of business development and security for Savi Technology, Sunnyvale, Calif., the seal creator. Some 35 partners include owners, vendors and consultants such as Hutchison Port Holdings, P&O Ports, Qualcomm, Parsons Brinckerhoff and a dozen of the world's biggest ports. Phase 2 will tackle cargo's inland routes.

"PB was interested in putting in the make it work," says Steve Sewell, ports director in Parson Brinckerhoff's Seattle office. That includes inspection areas, reconfigured berths and "having knowledge of existing infrastructure and translating it into a new environment," he says.

Two types of seals for rail cars were tested on the Alameda Corridor with San Diego-based TransCore, says Art Goodwin, deputy director for the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority. Twenty containers traveled on Union Pacific trains at varying speeds, with 40 reader sites built along the route. The accuracy rate was 95%, he says. The next step is to find grant money, modify the program and fit it to the SST framework.

The U.S. Maritime Security Expo in New York City this fall will update regulations, says a conference spokesman. Some 2,000 representatives from 30 countries will discuss hardening of facilities for ports, terminals and harbors. Oil rigs, pipelines and rail also will be discussed. But there remains a lack of common global standards.

"We're living on borrowed time," says Flynn. "We haven't tested a full intermodal environment."

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