Industry leaders find ray of hope at joint meeting in sunny Florida

By: | at 07:00 PM | Channel(s): Intermodal News  International Trade  

By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTMany leaders of the transportation industry have left sunny Fort Lauderdale with a ray of hope amidst the gloom of challenging economic times.
“It’s a year of opportunity,” James R. Hertwig, president of CSX Intermodal, said during one of numerous educational sessions as the Intermodal Association of North America, National Industrial Transportation League and Transportation Intermediaries Association jointly gathered Nov. 14-19 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center.
During the same session, Michael R. McClellan, vice president for intermodal and automotive marketing at Norfolk Southern Corp., said, “It’s going to be a pretty crappy freight year, but what that’s done is allowed us to provide a much better service product.”
Indeed, according to fellow panelists, rail service already has reached admirable levels and has potential to expand intermodal traffic along relatively short hauls of 500 to 1,200 miles.
Looking at 2008, Jeffrey R. Brashares, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Pacer Global Logistics, commented, “Clearly, this has been the best year for rail service in the last 10 or 15 years.”
Stephen G. Branscum, group vice president for consumer products at BNSF Railway, said his railroad is continuing to increase its offerings for moving both containers and trailers along 500- to 750-mile routes.
“Don’t get overly hung up on length of haul,” Branscum told shippers and others from among the more than 2,600 conference attendees. “It’s a combination of length of haul and freight density.
“Open your minds and give it [rail] a try,” Branscum continued. “The service really has improved, and there is good value.”
James Cairns, assistant vice president for intermodal at Canadian National Railway, cited economic factors such as the price of fuel and a shortage of truck drivers as key reasons why shippers are increasingly using rail rather than trucking, even for relatively short distances.
“I would challenge the shipping community to take out a map,” Cairns said, “and see if there’s a rail solution there.”
Jerry Ulm, global leader for carrier relations at building materials giant Owens Corning, said cost is not the most important factor in his shipping decisions: “If you’re leading with price, you’re going to lose. Price is table stakes; service is what wins the pot.”
Ulm added that he is “not a tree-hugger” who favors rail because of its environmental benefits but rather stated, “We are making a huge push toward rail simply because of J.B. Hunt and all of those railroads doing a good job.”
Paul R. Bergant, executive vice president of multimodal transportation logistics provider J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., joined those seeing favorable prospects in a time when both saving money and maximizing service provision are as critical as ever.
“It is an opportunity, and I think we can do some things,” Bergant said, “Where you have got an act that needs cleaning up, clean it up.”
In another panel discussion, Gary Furneaux, Americas logistics manager for polyolefins at ExxonMobil Chemical Co., said he sometimes finds himself using procedures that are considerably more expensive than the traditional method of loading export goods in 40-foot-long containers that are railed from the US Gulf to the Port of Los Angeles and put on ships for Asia.
Furneaux said transloading bagged, palletized product using 53-foot-long containers offers a costly but sometimes best-option alternative, and he added that his firm is considering further supply chain flexibility by looking at exporting via the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas and the Canadian port of Prince Rupert as alternatives to Los Angeles, where uncertainties include the impact of controversial new trucking requirements and other eco-spurred programs.
In one conference session, Patty Senecal, California government affairs manager for the International Warehouse Logistics Association, cautioned that such environment-related efforts

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.