WebGIFT marks a promising step toward greener logistics

By Bill Holloway

WebGIFT, developed by the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Delaware, is a web-based tool that allows users to optimize their shipping modes and routes based on time, distance, or emissions per twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) shipped. The tool allows users to specify a transportation origin and destination and the specific types of trucks, trains, and marine vessels that would be used for each mode. It then identifies the best multimodal routes based on the factors selected by users. Three models drive the tool, two of which are integrated to provide the costs associated with operating different types of freight vehicles on the domestic multimodal network. A third, EmissionsCalc, calculates vehicle energy and emissions under different circumstances.

WebGIFT’s routing information and associated data allows analysts and logisticians to easily evaluate the time, distance, and emissions associated with potential shipment routes and transportation modes. However, it fails to account for many of the obstacles that hinder the smooth flow of freight between modes and carriers. A suggested route of several hundred miles may include many intermodal transfers, suggest unrealistic trip lengths (e.g., an 8-mile rail movement in the middle of an otherwise truck-only trip), include rail and water routes that are unused or impassable, and assume seamless transitions between competing rail networks.

Despite these shortcomings, the ability to quickly compare surface freight modes for domestic origin-destination pairs on a per-TEU basis is valuable as a way of highlighting the potential benefits of moving freight by water or rail instead of truck. WebGIFT’s greatest contributions may be yet to come. With modifications to eliminate too-short trip lengths, account for costs and time associated with intermodal transfers, eliminate defunct water and rail corridors from consideration, and include pricing information, the tool could evolve to become much more precise and useful to logistics professionals.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.