Though the first barges passed through last week, the shipping season officially begins this week on the Mississippi River. Don Bardole is a park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and has spent years telling visitors about Lock and Dam number fifteen at Rock Island. Bardole says two-thirds of everything shipped on the upper Mississippi River is agricultural products, mainly grain. Next is coal, third is petroleum products including fuel, lubricants and asphalt and after that it’s a “miscellaneous” category. Crushed rock, scrap iron, chemicals, road salt — all kinds of products are shipped on the river. Bardole compares it with anothr mode of shipping goods, the cargo train. If what is in a full “tow” of barges were translated to a train, he says it’d make up a train two and-three-quarters miles long. ‘That’s awful big,” he comments, adding a full size tow will carry 22-thousand, 500 tons of cargo. Bardole says a “tow” or barges connected and pushed by one towboat carry as much freight as 870 semi trucks. Bardole says the use of barges to ship cargo on the big river is cost efficient and also environmentally friendly. He says it takes far less fuel than the trucks or trains he’s compared it to, and the boats use a lower quality fuel, so other fuel can be used by other vehicles. Hwe points out trains and trucks will always be needed to take goods to landlocked communities, but the barges can haul products down the river to ports where they’ll go to export markets. The first lock and dam built on the upper Mississippi, the Rock Island station went into service in 1933.
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