Inbound Logistics | January 2022

The emergence of the capacity crunch makes it more important than ever for intermodal to be in the forefront. “The driver capacity challenges need to be met head on,” Slawter says. “Intermodal does double duty by providing a more attractive work environment for drivers who primarily want to be home every night and freeing up existing capacity. “Intermodal accomplishes this by putting the long haul portion of the move on the rail, enabling the driver pool to handle only the shorter moves on each end,” she adds. “Our industry simply cannot afford to send drivers across the country where they are gone for weeks at a time. This diminishes driver capacity for all, perpetuates a poor quality of life for drivers, and needlessly harms our environment when a more sustainable solution is readily available.” ADVANCINGSUSTAINABILITY Intermodal helps companies advance their sustainability initiatives because it is more energy efcient and results in lower emissions than trucking. A common myth Slawter encounters is that shippers have to sacrice service to convert to intermodal. She points to the case of an Odyssey customer unable to secure tank trucks from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacic Northwest. “We offered them intermodal to shorten the lead time by setting up our Portland storage facility as a staging area,” Slawter says. “We enabled them to store loaded ISO tanks economically and offered the customer a local source of supplies. In doing so, they were able to offer a service enhancement to their customer while still realizing freight cost savings—even after accounting for storage costs.” For this reason, she says, “intermodal can offer a service enhancement to companies, especially in today’s environment where it might take weeks to nd a long-haul driver. “Intermodal is a timely, reliable service that is a nearly transparent substitute for long-haul trucking,” Slawter says. “Shippers gain a local point

Among the leading intermodal developments is the CSX Carolina Connector, a 330-acre site that allows trucks to bring cargo containers to a rail yard where they are transferred to trains for transport. The facility provides regional industries with efficient rail access.

of supply by holding tank containers in a local depot and delivering them to the customer on short notice—which isn’t possible with tank truck transportation.” Intermodal shipping means longer trip times, particularly because of delays caused by the process of placing containers or trailers on rail cars on the front end of the trip and removing them on the back end, Trombly says. He notes intermodal also requires special handling equipment at rail terminals, limiting access to rail intermodal services. “It is difcult to compete with trucking in terms of exibility and speed,” Trombly says. Shippers who use intermodal can gain some advantage from a cost perspective, but they likely will need to sacrice the speed of delivery as a consequence. Due to the capacity issues that have led to congestion issues at the ports, rail terminals, and intermodal warehouses, Herpich says the intermodal market currently is “commodity-based.” “Because of the market we’re in now and because inventory levels are very low, there’s a need to get to the end customer quickly,” Herpich says. “A lot of shipments that used to go on rail don’t now because of the time perspective.” THE TIME CHALLENGE Additional transit time does create clear challenges for some shippers. “Intermodal is a disadvantage for shippers that worry about a few extra days of transit time,” Slawter says. “This

mostly applies when lead times are too short due to product not being readily available or short notice from the end user.” Despite the longer transit time, employing intermodal can help shippers reserve truck resources for more pressing shipments, playing a role in a diverse supply chain to help meet the need for speed. “Rail shipping isn’t ideal for expedited shipments, but is still a great way to increase capacity options and free up truckload capacity for time-sensitive freight,” Leonard says. “In today’s supply chain environment, having those options is a valuable asset.” IN IT FOR THE LONGHAUL Intermodal also is not immune to driver capacity challenges and is currently encountering a driver shortage on either end of the rail trip. But “some may argue that organizations utilizing rail for the long-haul portion of the move are less impacted,” Slawter says. “Take tank trucks as an example: Companies that choose rail are often well supported by the rail network and can offer an intermodal alternative for nearly all long-haul origin and destination pairs across North America,” Slawter says. “But as rail becomes increasingly popular during these times of uncertainty, there also can be a lack of rail reservations available in some lanes.” In addition to taking longer, intermodal can be more unpredictable

January 2022 • Inbound Logistics 163

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