Those participating in the intermodal market today must be prepared to manage a variety of challenges. Warehouse capacity shortages and limited chassis availability are among the issues complicating the intermodal market at times during the pandemic. With that in mind, those engaging in intermodal should be “a good partner in the supply chain,” says Todd Tranausky, vice president for rail and intermodal at FTR, which provides transportation forecasting “Don’t hold on to chassis, containers and trailers any longer than you need them,” he says. “Because ultimately it affects everybody in the supply chain— not just your supply chain and your ability to get equipment but everybody’s equipment in the system. The more you hold on to, the more you perpetuate and lengthen the disruption that we’re seeing.” The intermodal market is highly competitive, and shippers should consider working with carriers and brokers to guide them through the range of options available. An intermodal provider can help shippers shift modes smoothly, navigate disruptions, and plan for the future. “Choose your intermodal provider the same way you choose any logistics provider; having a trusted partner is important,” Leonard says. Slawter advises not to “sit and watch on the sidelines of intermodal.” Getting off the sidelines starts with identifying a shipper’s long-haul shipping lanes. Business intelligence and other technological tools now allow shippers to play out hypothetical scenarios for changing lanes and modes, allowing them “to make decisions that align with their cost, quality, and sustainability goals,” Slawter says. “A shipper’s customers or internal users might not be asking for intermodal service/rates but in many cases they don’t know their options,” she adds. “They simply want a service-oriented solution for getting product from point A to B. It is up to the logistics experts to bring this to the forefront and consider different modes of transport.” n
with the timing of a shipment, sometimes making planning more challenging. “Shippers always want to control the movement of their freight,” Herpich says. “For the most part, it is hard to control the rail moves—when they actually get ofoaded, and when a train actually gets from California to Chicago, for instance. But in a truck, shippers know exactly where their product is. And they have more control over its timing.” Looking ahead, experts point to an array of ongoing, impactful developments tied to intermodal. More communities are developing intermodal terminal facilities in the form of inland ports. For instance, the Carolina Connector, a CSX-owned 330- acre intermodal terminal, opened in November 2021 near Rocky Mount, North Carolina. And the planned 104- acre Northeast Georgia Inland Port will provide a direct link to the Port of Savannah via Norfolk Southern. Meanwhile, South Carolina Ports announced a $28-million expansion in 2021 of its Inland Port Greer, which extends the Port of Charleston’s reach 212 miles inland via rail. These inland ports “are envisioned to be engines of economic growth by linking manufacturing and distribution facilities directly with a range of transportation options,” Trombly says.
The increasingly complex supply chain and its “many moving pieces” is prompting shippers to consider their approach to intermodal with fresh eyes, leading to adjustments and innovation, says Tim Sailor, founder and CEO of California-based Navigo Consulting, which specializes in contract benchmarking, distribution analysis, and carrier negotiations. “More and more companies are focusing on their intermodal strategies in new ways that work around capacity constraints in any one mode,” Sailor says. “Many companies are also considering relocating distribution facilities as part of their intermodal strategy.” Efforts that have sprung up during the pandemic could lead to long-term changes in the intermodal market. For instance, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach adopted pilots for 24/7 operations to reduce the pileups of intermodal containers at their facilities. OPTING FOR INTERMODAL Shippers who have not used intermodal in the past should be open- minded and exible. “It’s easy for shippers to use the same solution over and over, but each move can have a new solution,” Herpich says. “The solution that worked a year or two ago might not be the best solution today.”
Inland Port Greer, a busy inland port in South Carolina, announced an expansion in 2021 to increase its capacity.
164 Inbound Logistics • January 2022
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