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Lack of rail capacity, threatens West Coast port flow

Ports along the US West Coast say they are in a healthier position and will be able to control peak season imports. Although concerns are arising about the rise in dwell times for rail-bound containers, possible derailing previous progress made by marine terminals.

Average rail container dwell times in Los Angeles-Long Beach reached 9.6 days in April, compared to the previous month of March being 7.7 days, nearly three times higher than the level needed for port fluidity, according to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA). According to port officials the average dwell time for rail containers in Oakland was about nine days for the month, and “double digits” at Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) of Seattle and Tacoma.

BNSF addressing congestion in Chicago

May 26th BNSF Railway announced it is struggling to move containers inland to Chicago, Memphis, and Kansas City markets due to lack of available chassis, forcing drivers to be delayed hours waiting to be loaded. Preventative measures are being placed by the railroad to avoid a possible repeat of last summer when Chicago was gridlocked.

BNSF has begun grounding containers in Memphis and Kansas City in the last four weeks, a signal the normal operations have been disrupted at the Logistics Park Chicago terminal. Brandon Unterbrink (BNSF’s assistant vice president of international intermodal) said, “We went from handling all the freight and all of our equipment being out early last year, to all of a sudden we’re storing equipment across our network at the end of last year, and then all of a sudden, without a good forecast, here it comes back”.

The average turn time in BNSF Logistics Park Chicago (LPC) was 76 minutes in the month of April compared with 53 minutes in 2021, according to the Illinois Trucking Association and data provider GeoStamp. Truck turn times were 14 minutes longer in LPC than last year between February and April.

UP says marine chassis supply is thin

Union Pacific Railroad is warning customers of a looming marine chassis shortage that will force the to stack containers near one port and four inland hubs. The railroad will not allow truckers to use privately owned chasses to remove boxes but still charge rail demurrage, said Wednesday, May 25th. Beneficial cargo owners (BCO’s), freight forwarders, and trucking companies are being urged to contact ocean carriers and lessors Consolidated Chassis Management, DCLI, TRAC Intermodal, and Flexi-Van Leasing to provide more chassis in Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Memphis, and Seattle, according to trucking companies.

UP advisory said, “the terminal’s current priority remains to be unloading inbound trains onto available chassis supply and reload grounded containers when there is chassis surplus generated, to keep the terminal operationally fluid,” “Operations will not stop… to un-stack and mount chassis at this time.” UP’s “no cherry picking” policy is generally disliked by shippers, forwarders, and truckers because the railroad charges demurrage, even though it turns away drivers with their own chassis. Demurrage fees were capped last summer after the instalment of the policy, receiving penalties exceeding $10,000.

Bill Mongelluzzo and Ari Ashe. Rail Capacity and Congestion, Accessed 31 May 2022.

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