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December 2021 Newsletter

Dear HVTT subscriber,

On December 20, 2021, the Coquihalla Highway in southwest British Columbia re-opened to essential commercial traffic after major storms and flooding caused extensive damage and forced its closure on November 14, 2021. Those storms also severely impacted other land-based transportation routes (road and rail) to/from the city of Vancouver, effectively cutting it off from the rest of Canada. This recent event highlights the importance of building resilient road freight transport systems, which is the theme of this month’s HVTT newsletter.

What does resilience mean?

In general terms, resilience refers to the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. In material science, we often consider resilience as the ability of a material to absorb energy, deform elastically, and then return to the original form upon unloading. This idea of “bouncing back” is useful when considering the functionality of a road freight transport system.

Consider a system operating at full functionality, with some level of preparatory activities in-place in anticipation of some future disruption or disturbance. When that disruption occurs, functionality immediately drops. Over time, a resilient system recovers (i.e., “bounces back”) to full functionality. Through the recovery process, the system may adapt or evolve based on learning done during or as a result of the disruption. Importantly, this post-recovery time is also a period to consider how the system might be improved rather than simply returned to its original state. This idea has sometimes been referred to as “bouncing forward”. When another disruption occurs, the newly adapted system demonstrates its resilience by mitigating its loss of functionality and recovering more quickly. [1]

Aspects of road freight transport system resilience

Governments at all levels increasingly recognize the need to build resilient road freight transport systems. An obvious starting point is to consider ways to design, construct, and maintain more resilient infrastructure assets (e.g., bridges and pavements). However, as so clearly demonstrated by the case of the Coquihalla Highway, broad networks can be impacted by the failure of critical assets. This concept of network-level resilience was the focus of a workshop organized by the Transportation Research Board that I attended in April 2021. The workshop examined freight system resilience through four types of disruptive events: hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and COVID-19. It provided a platform for sharing lessons and identifying future research needs, many of which are relevant for the HVTT Forum. Follow this link to access a full report on the workshop proceedings.

An important takeaway from the workshop was that a resilient road freight transport system involves much more than robust infrastructure assets and the recognition of the potential for network-level effects. Resilience also pertains to the interdependencies amongst the organizational structures needed to respond to disruptions, multi-agent and multimodal supply chains, and the information systems [2] that are so critical for making decisions in real-time. These issues were certainly evident in the case of the Coquihalla Highway closure, and will be critical as we seek “bounce forward” strategies.

To close, I am happy to report that snow is falling as I write, with a very normal high of -12°C expected today.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2022!

Jonathan Regehr

HVTT Vice President, North America

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[1] For visual learners, the concepts in this paragraph are portrayed in a helpful graphical format in: Rosati, J.D., Touzinsky, K.F., and Lillycrop, J.W. 2015. Quantifying coastal system resilience for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Environment, Systems, and Decisions. 35:196-208. DOI 10.1007/s10669-015-9548-3.

[2] The Artificial Intelligence for Logistics program of the National Research Council of Canada is one example of work directed at improving information systems to support supply chain resilience.

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