Shippers at industry forum look to more intermodal alternatives

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

By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTMajor shippers are increasingly looking to Canadian and Mexican ports to provide alternatives to traditional U.S. West Coast gateways, according to top shipper logistics executives speaking last week at freight transportation’s leading U.S. forum.
Such new intermodal service lanes are providing valuable options, according to presenters during a Nov. 16 session at the collocated Intermodal Association of North America Intermodal Expo, National Industrial Transportation League TransComp Exhibition and Transportation Intermediaries Association fall meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“Prince Rupert offers a new service lane I could see as a real winner,” said Rich Wallace, vice president of supply chain operations of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. unit JCP Logistics L.P.
Department store chain J.C. Penney is using the British Columbia port and inland rail service from Canadian National Railway to shave four days off transit to Chicago for Asia-originating furniture while also enjoying cost savings compared with using Southern California gateway ports, Wallace said.
Home appliance leader Whirlpool Corp.’s vice president of supply chain, Brian Hancock, said Mexican West Coast ports such as Lazaro Cardenas can reduce distance for intermodal moves to the Midwest and East and bring cost reductions as well.
“You have to have options,” said Hancock, who, like Wallace and fellow panelist Mike Mabry, executive vice president of logistics and distribution for Lowe’s Companies Inc., said intermodal rail will continue to play an increasing role their respective firms’ transportation plans.
“We want to use intermodal more and more,” Whirlpool’s Hancock said, while Mabry pointed to cost benefits, sustainability and availability as reasons for a rise in use by home improvement retailer Lowe’s of intermodal rail as opposed to trucking, commenting, “It’s a good decision for us. It’s ‘green’ and it’s available.”
The three panelists’ consensus view was reflected by an electronic poll of shipper executives in the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center audience, 89 percent of whom said they intend to increase intermodal transportation spending in 2011.
In response to a question posed to all session attendees, 32 percent said that they believe new service lanes represent the area in which shippers are most likely to experience intermodal service gains in the next few years. Transit time came in next among four choices, at 28 percent, followed by system capacity, at 26 percent, and equipment availability, at 15 percent. (The rounded figures generated by the handheld voting devices totaled 101 percent.)
The shipper panel also saw J.C. Penney’s Wallace comment that he believes 53-foot-long ocean containers eventually will play a significant role in trans-Pacific trade, offering greater flexibility for inland moves. He said that, while J.C. Penney cargo has not yet moved across the ocean in 53-foot units, he has been discussing the possibility with officials of Singapore-based APL, which took delivery of the industry’s first ocean-capable 53-foot boxes three years ago. (Although the 53-foot box is fundamental to domestic intermodal transportation, cargo typically arrives at U.S. ports in smaller containers and then is transloaded into the larger boxes for inland moves.)
The panelists representing J.C. Penney, Whirlpool and Lowe’s all expressed similar cautious optimism for 2011, with each anticipating a gradual rebound from the global economic downturn.
A not-too-fast recovery could be a smoother proposition than a swift revitalization for transportation providers and those they serve.
During the Nov. 15 joint opening session, chief executives of the three sponsoring trade groups pointed to factors that could bring about a capacity crunch when volumes return to pre-recession levels and ultimately exceed them.
NITL’s president and chief executive officer, Bruce Carlton, said he sees capacity concerns emerging across all modes of transportation, and T

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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.