All Things Intermodal: Highlights from the 2014 IANA Expo
As this year’s chairman of the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA), I was thrilled to meet with over 1,700 of my colleagues at the annual Intermodal Expo, which was held September 21-23 in Long Beach, CA. Many commented that this year’s show truly represented the professionalism and maturity that intermodal has achieved within the U.S. freight transportation mix. We talked directly and honestly about both the challenges and opportunities we saw in 2014 and those we will see in 2015. All components of the industry were represented, including the port authorities, the class 1 railroads, draymen, shippers, intermodal marketing companies (IMCs), and equipment interests. Some of the issues that were consistently discussed included:
There is little doubt that the overall driver shortage has impacted draymen at ports and rail ramps nationwide. While dray carriers do have the advantage of typically getting their drivers home most nights, it is offset by inconsistent and often long wait time at ports and shippers docks. We heard repeatedly from our valued carriers that all aspects of driver recruitment and retention including pay, safety, and driver qualifications were more challenging than ever.
Rail Service Recovery
Everyone in the industry recognized that service levels have fallen for a variety of reasons, including the tough winter, car and crew shortages, port congestion, and record traffic volumes across all commodities. The railroads are focused on increasing available capacity and laid out plans to increase cars and crews. Port authorities expect to expand hours in some locations and work with steam ship lines to better coordinate vessel loadings. Shippers are monitoring and taking steps to decrease detention time. It was clear that there was not one single reason that has led to the service level deterioration, and all parties have a role to play in service level recovery.
Differentiation of Intermodal as a Unique Mode
Industry-leading shippers view intermodal as a unique mode within their freight network and not simply a substitute for over the road trucks. Increasing amounts of freight are pre-designated as intermodal lanes instead of truckload converted lanes. Shippers are more aware than ever of the advantages intermodal can bring in terms of cost, visibility, cross border, capacity, and sustainability. The question has shifted from, “Do you do intermodal?” to “How much intermodal do you do?”
At the chairman’s reception on September 22, many people told me how impressed they were with this year’s IANA Expo. The truth is that IANA has a very professional, dedicated, and talented staff that excelled, and they all deserve many thanks and kudos.
If you need help determining how much intermodal your company should be doing, reach out to your C.H. Robinson account manager and we can begin to assess how intermodal should fit into your freight transportation toolbox.