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Borderlands: CBP beefs up border security; Kenworth restarts truck factory in Mexico

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will enhance security at the southern border land ports using under vehicle scanning technology from Viken Detection. (Photo: CBP)

Borderlands is a weekly rundown of developments in the world of United States-Mexico cross-border trucking and trade. This week: CBP beefs up security at US-Mexico border; Kenworth restarts truck factory in Mexico; Love’s Travel Stops opens new location in Laredo; Port of Brownsville ranks third for “financial resilience.”

CBP beefs up scanning security technology at US-Mexico border

Several United States-Mexico ports of entry will soon have new tools to help stop concealed drugs, weapons, cash, explosives and even people at the border.

Viken Detection recently announced it won a contract to install four of its Osprey-UVX under vehicle X-ray inspection systems at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) land points of entry, including two in Brownsville, Texas, and two in Laredo, Texas.

CBP has acknowledged that only around 15% of commercial trucks and 1% of passenger vehicles are currently inspected at the border using X-ray technology.

“CBP’s issue is how do we go from 1% vehicle passenger vehicle inspection or 15% commercial vehicle inspection to closer to 100%,” Jim Ryan, chief executive officer of Viken Detection, said in an interview with FreightWaves. “So we’ve been working with CBP on a program in the last couple of years to build large-scale portals, fast vehicle portals for vehicles entering land ports of entry.”

The Osprey-UVX is a fixed “in-the-ground” system that provides real-time undercarriage and lower-vehicle imaging, according to Viken Detection. Passengers can stay in the vehicle while it is being scanned using Viken’s X-ray imaging technology. 

“For us, the most critical aspect is the under vehicle, because that’s really where CBP is blind,” Ryan said.

Viken Detection, based in Burlington, Massachusetts, is a research and technology company focusing on X-ray physics and the design of analytical devices. 

There is no truly reliable gauge of total drug revenue for Mexican traffickers moving narcotics across the border. The Mexican government has estimated that drugs smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border could be anywhere from $11 billion to $39 billion annually.

Most of the drugs are smuggled in commercial trucks and passenger vehicles moving through land ports of entry. In Laredo, more than 4 million commercial trucks and 5 million passenger cars crossed the border during 2019.

Ryan added that drugs, cash and weapons can be hidden almost anywhere under a vehicle, including tires, bumpers, drive shafts and fuel tanks. 

The Osprey-UVX should also decrease the time it takes to inspect vehicles and reduce wait times for vehicles crossing the border, Ryan said.

“Vehicles, if they are traveling over the Osprey-UVX at 5 miles an hour, the scan is proportional to the size of the vehicle driving over it,” Ryan said. “With a vehicle driving over [the Osprey-UVX], both collecting the image and assessing the image, you’re talking about 10 to 15 seconds to do a first order inspection.”

Many CBP facilities are already using Viken’s hand-held scanning device, the HBI 120. Viken is rolling out its next generation of hand-held scanners, the Broadwing and Nighthawk.  

“What we have done with our Nighthawk version is created different detection geometries, creating images that can be done very quickly and incorporating lead identification, because drug traffickers like to use lead to disguise the X-rays,” Ryan said.

Ryan added that the new scanning technology is also more relevant now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We weren’t thinking of COVID-19 when we designed them, but with this technology you don’t have to interact with the passengers. You can inspect the entire vehicle without touching it,” Ryan said.

Kenworth restarts truck factory in Mexico after six-week closure

Kenworth Mexicana, a subsidiary of PACCAR, resumed operations at its plant in Mexicali, Mexico on Monday.

The facility had been closed since March 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenworth said it restarted production with additional measures to address safety and health.

Sales of heavy-duty trucks plummeted 77% during April in Mexico, according to the National Association of Producers of Buses, Trucks and Tractor-trailers (ANPACT).

The sale of heavy-duty trucks and buses across Mexico fell to 893 units wholesale, compared to 3,865 trucks sold in the same period in 2019.

“The drop in the sale of heavy vehicles responds mainly to the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the value chain of the cargo and trucking industry,” Miguel Elizalde, ANPACT’s executive director, said in a release. 

Love’s Travel Stops opens new location near U.S.-Mexico border

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores recently opened a new location in Laredo, adding 87 truck parking spaces.

The 12,000-square-foot facility is the company’s third in Laredo and 74th location in Texas. It includes eight diesel bays, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, CAT scale, dog park and several dining options.

“We’re committed to expanding our Highway Hospitality and adding more easily accessible stops to help get customers back on the road quickly and safely,” Tom Love, founder and executive chairman of Love’s, said in a release.

Oklahoma City-based Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores has 510 locations in 41 states. Love’s provides professional truck drivers and motorists with 24-hour access to gasoline, diesel fuel, and other goods and amenities. 

Port of Brownsville ranks third for “financial resilience” during pandemic

The Port of Brownsville ranks third among ports across the United States for “strong financial resilience” in a new report issued by Moody’s Investor Services.

Moody’s analysis evaluated U.S. ports on a range of factors surrounding financial responsibility, including the ability to handle the impact of a significant decline in cargo volume, financial liquidity and debt service coverage ratio.

“We take our financial obligations very seriously and work to ensure we are responsible stewards of the port’s resources,” John Reed, chairman of the Brownsville Navigation District, said in a release. “Even during today’s extraordinary economic climate, the Brownsville Navigation District Commission is taking responsible steps to maintain a stable financial foundation to attract continued growth and job creation.”

The Port of Brownsville is a deep-water seaport located in South Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border. The 40,000-acre port is connected to the Gulf of Mexico by a 17-mile-long ship channel. 

The port recently reported a record-setting $8.9 billion in the combined value of exports and imports during 2019.

Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]