The Port of Charleston was moving some containers off terminals in assembly-line fashion well before the “free flow” process became an accepted industry strategy for reducing truck delays.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have recently been credited with streamlining the process of container hand-offs to trucks, but the Port of Charleston has been carrying out its own version of “free flow” for many years, according to Jim Newsome, CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority.
Marine terminals at the two Southern California ports in the past couple years have adopted “free flow” where possible as a way to ease congestion created by bigger ships dumping larger volumes of cargo at once and a system in which truck drivers show up seemingly at random to pick up containers for their customers. Equipment and longshore labor imbalances at terminals only contributed to long-lines of trucks waiting to make deliveries.
Under the new process, also referred to as “peel-and-go,” terminals simply segregate containers into blocks for certain high-volume destinations, or beneficial cargo owners, and trucks pull into a line to have the next box in the stack loaded on their chassis. In the traditional method, dispatchers gave drivers a specific pick-up assignment, forcing stevedores to hunt down the container and move other boxes to reach it if it is not at the top of the pile.
“We’ve been doing that since about 1999 with the inbound freight for the automotive industry, where 200 containers come off a ship and they just get in a stack and we just send them one-by-one over to the rail ramps,” Newsome said in a recent interview with American Shipper. BMW operates an assembly plant in Spartanburg and many automotive suppliers are also located in the Upstate region.
The Norfolk Southern and CSX rail ramps are about 15 miles from the primary container terminal in Charleston and containers are transported between the locations by truck.
Four years ago, the SCPA began a Rapid Rail program under which steamship lines outsourced to the port authority dispatch of container deliveries to and from marine terminals. Having a consolidated view of all moves enables the port authority to better match inbound and outbound truck moves so there are fewer one-way moves without a load, thereby increasing revenues for truckers, speeding up deliveries and reducing traffic on the highway.
Newsome said the Rapid Rail program at first dispatched trucks by container number, but officials realized that was inefficient and changed the system last year.
“So we sat around here and said, ‘Now wait a minute, if they’re all going to the terminal, we’ll peel-and-go.’ We increased the efficiency of that program from about four turns a day to about seven turns a day through doing that,” Newsome said. “It’s made a dramatic improvement in efficiency.”
SSA Marine, years ago, was also an early adopter of “free flow” at some of its U.S. West Coast terminals.