Tacoma tracks intermodal moves with GPS
The Port of Tacoma announced it is testing a satellite-based system to track intermodal containers from marine terminals to destinations in the central and eastern United States.
The port is partnering with BNSF Railway, ocean carrier Yang Ming Line and Alberta, Canada-based Safefreight Technology to place the portable devices on containers heading to Chicago and beyond. The devices use a global positioning system and other sensors to record location, speed, direction, starts, stops and other performance indicators. A wireless receiver transmits the data through cellular networks to a computer at Safefreight, which makes the data available to the port via the Web.
Officials say Tacoma, to the best of their knowledge, is the first U.S. port to attempt its own tracking system for inland rail moves of ocean boxes.
The GPS tracking initiative is primarily a way to benchmark the efficiency of intermodal service through Tacoma and then work with railroads and shippers to address any identified problems. The port is ultimately taking ownership of service levels rather than simply leaving it up to port users in order to market Tacoma as an optimal gateway for moving Asian imports to consignees in the eastern half of the United States.
“We’re the only West Coast port with an intermodal department. Our responsibility is to make sure the customer gets service all the way to the final destination,” said Larry St. Clair, director of intermodal marketing, in an interview at a recent freight transportation conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The effort started as a way to see how long it takes for intermodal freight to reach Chicago and then expanded to capture other metrics for speed and reliability.
In the past, port officials primarily relied on pro forma rail schedules to assess transit times, but the new system will take the guesswork out of identifying bottlenecks and delays, he said. Until now, the port could track how efficient its terminals are in unloading vessels and placing them on trains for delivery, but had little visibility into the cargo’s progress once it left the port on a mainline rail. The port, without being a party to the bill of lading, otherwise would have to reach agreements with each railroad and vessel operator to get access to their internal tracking systems reserved for customers.
“People have assumptions about cargo scheduling, routing and delivery, but when you dig into the data, many of those assumptions may turn out to be false,” said Rob Collins, manager of transportation and supply chain planning, in a news release.
He added that the Safefreight system could eventually provide security benefits by identifying places where cargo is at rest and vulnerable.
The small tracking device is affixed to the exterior of the container door. ' Eric Kulisch