By Gene Linn, AJOT

When it comes to freight containers, according to Nexus Distribution President Will Hansen, the heavier the better. Nexus began in April to allow customers to more easily ship containers that are heavier than those permitted on public highways. The company plans to expand opportunities for these shipments over the next year. “It improves the use and efficiency per ton of products shipped in containers,” Hansen told the AJOT. “That’s the whole crux of what we’re trying to do.”

The first step was the opening last month of the “Chicago Land Bridge,” a half-mile long private road from the Chicago CSX intermodal facility to the Nexus distribution center in Bedford Park, IL. Twenty-foot containers using the bridge can haul up to 62,000 pounds; 40-footers, 63,500 pounds. Normal highway weight limits peak at 44,000 pounds for both sizes.

One of Nexus’s customers used to ship containers of normal weight from Belgium to the port of New York/New Jersey, according to Nexus. The containers were trucked to a warehouse in New Jersey. The products bound for the Midwest and West were stored and then sent out in full and partial truckloads. (If the customer had shipped “heavy” containers to the East Coast, the boxes would have been reloaded at the port into containers light enough to travel by road.)

Now, the customer ships heavy containers through the port, by rail to CSX Intermodal and then on the land bridge to the Nexus distribution center. Using fully loaded containers in this way allows Nexus customers to ship fewer boxes.

“If you ship 3,000 containers a year and instead of 42,000 pounds each you ship 48,000, that’s 828 fewer containers per year,” said Hansen. “That’s at least $1 million in savings right there. And you reduce the headache of keeping track of so many containers, chances for damage and so forth.”

Nexus can take heavy containers as they were loaded overseas and provide services such as pre-assembly, warehousing and deconsolidation into multiple shipments for direct delivery to end customers. “The land bridge almost makes Chicago a seaport, an inland port,” said Hansen.

The process now focuses on imports for manufacturers within about 400 miles of the Nexus distribution center. Shipments to retailers generally fill up containers before reaching legal weight limits, according to Hansen. Most shipments are through East Coast ports, in line with CSX’s arrangements with ports and ocean carriers. But CSX is able to take containers shipped from Asia via the ocean carrier Evergreen, and some Asian shipments are routed to the East Coast due to congestion at Western ports. Nexus received about 20 containers over the land bridge in the first month of operation. The company projects throughput of 20 boxes a day when it goes to a 24/7 operation, in about two months.

Other expansion plans are on the drawing board. Hansen expects exports to begin within about a year when a new land bridge is built to the exit gate of the CSX intermodal yard. The same time frame is set for new land bridges in Atlanta and possibly Texas or California. Nexus hopes that in two or three years, US Customs will approve its Illinois warehouse as a bonded facility, allowing goods to go from international origins on the land bridge to Nexus.