In its focused and ongoing effort to address the concerns of motor carriers and to become more operationally efficient, The Port of Virginia is taking a number of deliberate steps aimed at improving overall cargo velocity.

“An investment in technology and conveyance equipment, smarter allocation of manpower, reactivating mothballed equipment, extending hours at our gates and empty yards when and where needed and setting up various express-type lanes for motor carriers are either in operation or on their way,” said John. F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “We are taking concrete steps to address some immediate concerns—motor carrier-related issues are a priority – and building this foundation for the future. Over the long-term, these moves will help us better align our volumes with revenues and improve the overall flow of cargo across our terminals.”

The immediate effort is focused Norfolk International Terminals (NIT), a 693-acre facility that has more than a mile of wharf space, two transfer zones and the port’s largest (on-dock) rail operation.

Last year, The Port of Virginia set a record in terms of TEU volume, but revenues did not correspond. It became apparent that an overall review of container conveyance systems and subsequent investment to address the recommended changes was needed there, Reinhart said.

Since the beginning of the year, the emphasis has been on improving the throughput of truck freight and the following steps have been taken, or a plan and accompanying deadline have been approved.

Improvements made to gate and transfer zones (NIT North/South): Feb. 3, 25

Express or PNG (Pop-and-Go) lanes at the transfer zones have been implemented to improve the velocity of dual transactions. The PNG lane is only for one-way export and empty container moves. These lanes handle 10 percent to 15 percent of transfer zone volume and the average transaction time is 30 minutes. In addition, gate hours have been expanded: 5 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. – noon on Saturdays.

Creation of the Motor Carrier Task Force (MCTF): March 5

The overall goal of the MCTF is to improve the throughput of truck freight while not compromising on safety. The task force consists of a 10-member steering committee and five working or segmentation groups that will focus on reducing turn times, cutting wait-time at the gates, chassis availability and regulating the daily flow of trucks to and from the terminals. Areas of emphasis include: the appointment system; on the terminal movement; reefers; chassis dynamics and empty yards; and the gate.

The task force is composed of representatives from the motor carrier community, service providers, the International Longshoremen’s Association, ocean carriers, shippers and US Customs and Border Protection.

Testing of optical character recognition (OCR) portals: March 31

A portion of all container traffic, bare chassis and bobtails is being routed through NIT’s inbound OCR portals (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.) as a part of a test. The technology automatically identifies containers, chassis, and license plates associated with equipment and enables automatic gate processing functions.

It is expected that this test will help to transform the gate into a free-flowing process: processing should take about half the time it did prior to gate automation. It should also lead to reduced queuing and subsequent reductions in idling and emissions.

Implementation of an appointment system for motor carriers: May 1

The appointment system is focused on regulating the flow of trucks into NIT to reduce the “rush hour” effect and spread the gate moves more evenly throughout the day; operations will be able to set a number of available “reservations” per hour. The version being debuted May 1 will be an abbreviated version and be implemented only at NIT. A new appointment system that works with the N4 terminal operating system will be phased-in following full implementation of N4.

Introduction of “yard hustlers” into the rail operation: 5/26

Thirty-two hustlers are being leased and delivered to NIT by May 26 and the effort will be to integrate them into operations at the Central Rail Yard (CRY) as soon as practically possible to optimize rail operations. Of equal importance is the fact that these pieces of equipment will allow for more efficient use of straddle carriers against the live gates.

(In addition, significant changes are being be made to the current CRY layout and there are changes being made to the programming technology to reflect new processes. As the N4 terminal operating system is implemented it will use GPS to locate and track containers.)

Implementation of N4 terminal-wide operating system: July 4

The N4 terminal operating system is the industry’s most advanced technology and is now being used at 89 terminals globally. This system will replace a legacy system and allow for better operational visibility; equipment utilization in the yard; efficiency with gate processes; event monitoring; and inventory management. Moreover, N4’s flexibility and adaptability allows for easy changes as operations and terminals evolve.

Additional measures taken since Feb. 10:

• New supervisory staffing at all operating areas: gate, transfer zone and rail operations.

• More labor is being ordered to work the expanded operating hours for straddle carrier operations and to train and straddle carrier drivers.

• Additional straddle carriers are being made ready to serve expanded operations.

• The frequency of maintenance of straddle carriers and other equipment is being increased to reduce downtime.

• Equipment that was in “mothball” status is being returned to use.

• Chassis are being repositioned daily, including weekends, to balance chassis on yards and in the terminals.

• Ocean carriers are collaborating with the port to add more chassis to the pool.

• Empty yard hours have been extended to match terminal hours on weekends.

• A pilot program was started in March to reduce the number of dead-lined chassis at the in-gate (APMT and empty yards included).