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Experts speak on intermodal capacity challenges at TIA 2018

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Intermodal is a unique business. Competitors are also colleagues. You have to find creative and unique solutions because the issues and needs are so varied. You also have to know “a little about everything” as it pertains to logistics. As capacity has tightened for trucks, the effects have been felt across the industry.

According to the panelists, increasing pay is happening with drivers dictating what and when they’ll go. Intermodal isn’t the deferred service it was once considered. It’s also highly technical, which most people don’t realize.

“All the markets are tight,” says Chuck Henderson, vice president of RoadOne Intermodal Logistics. “You have to plan.”

For all the new technology, it’s still also about relationships, Kristy Knichel, CEO and president of Knichel Logistics, emphasizes. She says, “We use the ramp over-the-door product. In March we shipped to 2200. We go ramp to ramp because of relationships. We always go with the ramp business. I’ve spent my career developing relationships.”

“Treat your drayman and your trucker like your customer, if not better,” she says. “My dad taught me that and I’ve always lived by that. We go out and meet them in person. We take them out. We ask questions. They appreciate this, because most don’t.”

Todd Biscan director of intermodal sales for CSX, says the past two weeks have been picking up. “We’ve been through so many things the past year. We were having trouble just getting our trains to the freight. A lot was just sitting around to be honest.”

Shawntell Kroese, vice president of Loup Logistics, expects the higher demand to continue. “Seasonally you usually get a break,” she says, “but it’s been a different kind of year. We expect it not to ease up.”

“Union Pacific Railroad—we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Kroese says. “We’re working on getting the right pieces in the right places. Active attention on having our resources well-positioned. We’re adding additional containers and chassis’s, adding capacity to the network.”

In terms of parternships, Kroese says they’re looking for true mutuality. “We want our mutual relationships to feel, well, mutual. Don’t just come to use at peak season. We love spot freight, too, however as we’re tightening, if we know it’s coming we can operate better.”

Sam Niness, president of Thoroughbred direct intermodal sales, says when things get out of whack it’s like a domino effect. “When one railroad gets a cold, the other starts sneezing. We had a huge, huge amount of freight last year and we’re making the right investments to grow and make the right capacity. It’s also not like you just have chassis’s laying around to buy. You have to manufacture them. We probably lost 10-20% capacity due to the ELDs. I think ELDs are a very big deal.”

Paul Newbourne, EVP and COO of Covenant Transport Solutions, says intermodal is a separate part of their business. Like Kroese they’re looking for mutual partnerships. They also don’t go with rail without a customer knowing. “It’s just bad ju-ju. If we do, we give the customer their options.”

So what’s the next big thing? “Analytics and data,” says Chris Lee, CCO of Logistical Labs. “Machine learning, seeing patterns. More than just year over year. Knowing your data points. More where you can be proactive and make informed decisions.”

To make it easier now it’s just a spreadsheet you can upload and update, which automatically changes everything at once and for everyone.”

Knichel says keeping up with the larger players is hard. “We updated our TMS in 2013. The systems don’t always work completely the whole way through. Sometimes you still just have to use the human, and use your brain.”

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