At this year’s Intermodal Expo BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose compared intermodal transportation to a relay race that is dependent on each party to make the handoff from one leg to the next with maximum efficiency.
Those handoffs each have their own unique challenges that ocean carriers, dock workers, trucking companies and freight owners need to address for intermodal to grow to its full potential.
It’s hard to imagine a bigger challenge than the near chaos that enveloped the nationwide container chassis fleet, which has been made worse by the Hanjin bankruptcy.
Originally, the ocean shipping lines owned almost the entire chassis fleet, which they provided for free to their customers. But failure to maintain the equipment properly resulted in intermodal truckers being cited for a multitude of safety violations.
Truckers eventually persuaded Congress to pass a law shifting safety liability back to the shipping lines, who then threw up their hands and announced they were getting out of the chassis business.
Two years ago at another Intermodal Expo, three experienced leasing industry veterans announced the inauguration of a new West Coast chassis fleet after buying about 80% of the shipping lines’ chassis in that part of the country.
Early in 2015 those three companies – Direct Chassis Link, Inc., Flexi-Van Leasing Inc. and TRAC Intermodal – found themselves overwhelmed by the challenge of managing these 80,000 chassis and obtained Justice Department Antitrust approval to cooperate in forming what is called a “gray pool” that they would manage jointly.
Then truckers began grabbing ahold of their own destiny by forming their own pools, such as the few hundred chassis that were included in the Trucker Chassis Connection, created last year by the Harbor Trucking Association at the Ports of Long Beach and Oakland in California (AA 6-15-15, P. 4).
The newest of these pools was introduced at this year’s Intermodal Expo in Houston, called the North American Chassis Pool Cooperative. Already up and running, NACPC plans to have 15,000 chassis in operation by the end of this year and 50,000 next year.
Laying out those plans for ACWI Advance was NACPC President David Manning, who also is president of the TCW Inc. warehouse-based third-party logistics provider based in Nashville.
While standing next to one of the pool’s gleaming new chassis on display at the trade show, Manning explained that all of the fleet’s units will be equipped with radial tires, auto-inflation systems and antilock brakes.
The unit that was on display offered a stark contrast to the dirty, poor condition of most of units that are seen in service today.
One persistent complaint of many drayage carriers is the poorly maintained chassis they must use. But upgrades are difficult when some drivers swap out and sell new tires for old ones when they can.
Manning says this won’t happen to its tires because NACPC will keep control of all its units, which must be returned to its facilities instead to the general pool.
The NACPC pool currently operates in Chicago and the Ohio Valley, and at Gulf Coast and southern East Coast Ports, including Houston and Savannah, GA. It also has obtained antitrust approval of its operation from the Justice Department
Making it even more attractive to potential users is that NACPC pool subscribers pay rental fees of only $12 to $14.25 per day, Manning points out.
Cooperative membership is open to qualified motor carriers. In addition to the equipment, pool members receive pool management (including maintenance and repo), insurance, gate-to-gate utilization percentage factoring and cash accumulation for future modernization purchases.