Are You Fast or Are You Slow?
Reporter's Notebook: September 14, 2021
Welcome to Edition 2 of the Please Haul My Freight newsletter. Here are some of the items in my reporter’s notebook this week:
INTERMODAL METRICS: Usually when intermodal volume goes up, train speeds go down: they are “inversely proportional.” Therefore, it’s not surprising that BNSF Railway’s intermodal train speeds are 3 miles per hour slower than 3Q20 because volume is about 7% higher, according to the Association of American Railroads. CSX, CP, and CN follow this pattern. But Union Pacific stood out. UP’s intermodal train speeds are nearly 2 mph slower than 3Q18, even though UP’s volume is 6.4% lower. In other words, UP’s trains are slower even though they are hauling fewer containers. Larry Gross has been closely following this 2021 vs. 2018 comparison.
CHICAGO TURN TIMES: The Illinois Trucking Association tracks truck turn times in Chicago rail terminals. Turn times at BNSF Logistics Park Chicago deteriorated 96% year over year (34 minutes in Aug. 2020 to 68 minutes Aug. 2021), and I’ve heard complaints about long turns in BNSF Memphis. CSX 59th Street (international intermodal) has deteriorated 93% to 54 minutes and CSX Bedford Park (domestic) is 14.7% slower to 33 minutes compared with Aug. 2020. However, turn times in UP’s Global II and Global IV were about the same as a year ago: 31-37 minutes.
What is your experience in Chicago? Are drivers spending more time in BNSF LPC than UP Global IV? How about CSX vs. NS?
E-ZPASS INTO RAIL TERMINALS: At the North American Rail Shippers conference last week, BNSF CEO Katie Farmer highlighted a pilot project in Seattle with J.B. Hunt and Schneider to examine touchless entry for truckers. Think a toll plaza where drivers can go through without stopping using a transponder. There is no timeline set on rolling this out to other intermodal terminals, but it’s a fascinating development.
PORT OF BALTIMORE: The port received four all-electric ship-to-shore cranes last Thursday. The Maryland Port Administration is also eager to enhance rail service to the Ohio Valley and Chicago. CSX will break ground on the Howard Street Tunnel project later this year. Keep an eye on Norfolk Southern, though.
There are two obstacles to NS double stacking: a) The Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel; b) the Amtrak Susquehanna River Bridge. I asked MPA executive director William Doyle about this:
“Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater is in discussions with Amtrak on an historic partnership to finally replace the 147-year old B&P Tunnel in Baltimore. The Susquehanna Bridge clearance is an issue, but we’re working toward figuring it out. It’s on the list.”
Amtrak owns the tracks in this stretch of Maryland.
CN-KCS: TCI Fund launched an all-out proxy battle with Canadian National on Sept. 13 to replace CEO JJ Ruest and Chairman Robert Pace with Jim Vena and Gilbert Lamphere. Will JJ and Robert dig in their heels on Kansas City Southern, or bow to pressure, collect $1.4 billion and hope that satisfies shareholders? Here is what Chris Montgomery wrote on my LinkedIn:
“I’m not sure anyone deserves to be removed over this, but if you’re looking for heads, I’d look at KCS leadership first. Both Canadian railroads have done what they needed to do. CN made a solid play against the odds, made their competitor pay more and walked away with cash. CP has stood tough, and will now likely complete the deal that started this whole ordeal.”
Do you agree or disagree with Chris?
JOC SHIPPER’S TRUCKLOAD RATES: We track spot dry-van shipper retail rates on more than 4,000 US lanes: broker-to-shipper rates. In August, rates climbed 3 cents sequentially to $3.02 per mile on a weighted basis. Rates rose 11 cents out of the Northeast cents versus July, and 12 cents out of the Midwest. Rates fell 11 cents out of the Southeast.
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The NS isn’t going to be competitive on price or service into port of Baltimore. They don’t have a direct route west, everything goes north to Harrisburg, and CSX has priority on service into the ramp.