As our national capacity crunch deepens with the ripening of a growing season in the south many people thought that intermodal capacity would be the answer to a capacity shortage. The real answer is not what people were expecting at all. The ELD mandate has struck intermodal in regards to drayage both for international container shipping and domestic traffic.
On the international side, long dwell times at ports and highly congested urban freeways abuses drivers and lax enforcement of hours of service before ELDs masked a problem that is now exposed. With the Panama Canal’s lack of immediate success, it may be possible that the intermodal drayage capacity crunch finally makes less congested ports a viable option.
What is happening on both the domestic and international side is that the consumption of driver hours is pushing what was theoretically a one day round trip on drayage in the 200-250-mile range into two day trips given the max duty time of 14 hours. This consumes equipment if not just the driver’s wages. You have to think about the fact that intermodal equipment is more finite and any consumption in terms of trailer days will affect the entire intermodal eco chain.
There are no easy quick fixes
Presuming the amount of intermodal conveyances, be it container or trailer can be increased, you still have to increase the number of seated tractors. There are no easy quick fixes.
Strangely enough, embargoing shipments with long drayage miles may actually help save intermodal. That will probably be done by strategic pricing, at least in domestic truckload side. The intermodal companies could effectively embargo certain points through pricing for being too far from an intermodal facility to be able to be serviced within a driver’s effective and now monitored duty cycle.
Adding intermodal capacity is an expensive proposition
The intermodal trailers also need intermodal rail cars and locomotives. These are large capital expenditures just waiting for the next recession. At some point, you also need to enlarge and enhance ramp facilities. Frankly, getting drivers should be the easy part simply because the drivers are typically home each night.
America is greening from the bottom up right now and expect things to get much worse when it comes to pricing and capacity before it gets better. The growing season always makes things tight in the seasonal states but doubtful you’ve seen anything like the crunch that’s lurking. Unfortunately, intermodal is not a near term answer.
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