Pay attention to data guys

COMMENT: Admittedly, I am a transport aficionado, so imagine my delight when I discovered a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey podcast - really an audio file with an interview - of in-house data analysts, prepared by the US Office of Planning and Development, writes Barry Parker.

This may sound arcane and irrelevant to folks in the business of docking ships, moving cargo on and off the docks, and to and from customers. But it does not have to be that way.

Big Data and Spatial Analytics, the tools discussed, are being applied in new ways throughout the worlds of transport and logistics. As one of the interviewees noted: “When you have data sets like this available, it can only help all of us do our work.” Using new analytical techniques to better program the landside of port operations, and better convey the benefits of a large infrastructure project like the Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel - someplace out there in the Trump infrastructure future - is a big deal.

In the podcast, the two analysts describe the data sorting and number crunching (something only an über-boffin would love) underlying an extraordinarily fresh and innovative way of visualising freight flows around the harbour and beyond (something a results-oriented planner would love).

Since 2008, the local Port Authority has owned a “Marine Railroad” (rail cars on a float) that transport the carriages from one side of the harbour on New Jersey and Staten Island, where the docks are linked to the vast North American rail network, to the Brooklyn waterfront and its hinterland of 3m people plus industrial facilities. The car floats, low tech though they are, offer an efficient and environmentally-friendly congestion-reducing alternative to moving freight between the docks and the Brooklyn side.

A Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel, if it were to come about, would serve a customer base started with the floating railroad, and then some. the podcast was largely about the necessary data. It stopped short when it came to the details of how to harness this data for actionable planning for such a project, which is what comes next. That’s the job of leaders.

Port executives need to seek out data analysts such as these who may only open up on hidden podcasts. Don’t leave it up to columnists skulking around the back corners of the transport internet to find such important things and broadcast them. Their views will be vital when it comes to planning the port projects of the future.

The podcast can be found here.

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