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Short Sea Shipping Analysis


Short sea shipping can be a critical component of intermodal cargo traffic that shifts domestic cargo onto smaller vessels that use coastal shipping lanes, intercoastal waterways, rivers and the Great Lakes as an alternative to rail or highway trucks providing a more fuel efficient and greener option for shippers. It is also possible to take advantage of existing or anticipated short sea shipping infrastructure to enhance transit passenger and local delivery systems.

In addition to improving fuel consumption and reducing emissions from cargo and passenger traffic, local truck traffic congestion can also be reduced. For example the Port Inland Distribution Network (PIDN) for the Port of New York and New Jersey where barges move containers to the nearby ports of Bridgeport, Connecticut; Camden, New Jersey; Providence, Rhode Island; and Boston, Massachusetts; help reduce vehicle congestion and air pollution on the I-95 highway corridor. The PIDN has recently been expanded by the Port Authority and the NYC Economic Development Corporation, extending services from Maine to Maryland though the creation of the North Atlantic Marine Highway Alliance. Similarly, Caribbean/Central American ports (Kingston, Freeport, Cartagena and Panama) are hubs for East coast and Gulf short sea shipping operations.

On the other hand, short sea shipping may not be appropriate for all situations. For example, short sea shipping for the Great Lakes provides excellent access to central North American markets, though there are issues with custom regulations and winter shipments when ice formation is a concern as well as vessel size restriction associated with the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Where short sea shipping is possible, infrastructure changes may be needed to accommodate increased domestic traffic and to allow easy transfer of cargo to domestic vessels. This could include use of cross harbor routes that integrate passenger services with cargo movements. Inclusion of the passenger element could help reduce air quality impacts of commuter vehicle traffic, enhance safety of pedestrian and bike traffic, while also improve first/last mile deliveries.


This project is to identify design and policy elements that enhance the efficiency and use of urban short sea shipping transfer points and help quantify air quality improvements associated with these operations.


Understanding and addressing the critical infrastructure and policy elements of urban short sea shipping transfer points ensures that the transfers occur safely and efficiently providing an efficient option for shippers. Integrating the system within an urban setting should also encourage participation for commuters and improve delivery services.

Related Research:

The Maritime Administration’s Office of Marine Highways and Passenger Services has taken a greater role in short sea shipping since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Similarly, the Directorate General for Mobility and Transportation of the European Commissions has also been supportive of short sea shipping initiatives in Europe as a method to reduce GHG emissions by 60% by 2030 by shifting 30% of highway freight over 300 kms to other modes (including marine).

It should also be noted that TRB’s Port & Channel Committee, Committee on Ferry transportation, Committee on Public Transportation Planning and Development, and the Transportation and Air Quality Committee may also be interested in this short sea shipping research.


The primary activity associated with this project is the compilation of available information about urban short sea shipping transfer points; this would include documentation of problems encountered as well as success stories. These studies will need to be analyzed to determine lessons learned as well as fuel saved and emissions reduced. The findings of this analysis will be provide as a standalone document and include a webcast of the findings.


: As marine traffic is anticipated to increase globally, there is concern that congestion will be an issue for truck intermodal transfers. Some of this congestion may be relieved by use of smaller domestic vessels but for the system to work effectively it is critical that the transfer point at the port be developed in a way to ensure efficient movement of cargo between larger ships and smaller domestic vessels. Because ports are generally located within urban centers it is important that these facilities also be developed to support passenger and delivery traffic using smaller domestic vessels and local ferries. Moving cargo and passengers using this system will reduce fuel consumption as well as emission of GHGs and other pollutants., positively impacting local air quality.

Sponsoring Committee:AW030, Marine Environment
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:Medium
RNS Developer:Noel Comeaux and Richard Billings
Source Info:U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration Maritime Highways; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; New York City Economic Development Corporation; and trade groups such as the Council of Supply Chain Management
Date Posted:07/10/2019
Date Modified:07/26/2019
Index Terms:Short sea shipping, Intermodal transportation, Cargo ships,
Marine Transportation
Transportation (General)

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