The truck driver shortage in truckload was said to be pushing freight from the highways to intermodal rail. But the shortage has now jumped tracks and may be the biggest threat to intermodal growth, reports the Journal of Commerce.
Speakers at the recent NASSTRAC Shippers Conference said that now even drayage truck drivers are increasingly hard to find. “Train service is getting better, but the front end and back end is where we see problems,” said Shelli Austin, president of IDS Transportation, a third-party logistics company specializing in converting truckload freight to intermodal rail. Ninety percent of the company’s transportation business is intermodal, a major shift from a few years ago, she said.
Those problems not only include finding a drayage driver, but there’s also difficulty getting drayage trucks in and out of intermodal yards and congested port terminals.
Asked whether intermodal is still the obvious solution to a truck capacity crunch, Austin and other panelists questioned whether that’s still as sure of a bet as considered a few years ago.
“I think intermodal provides an option for us in the future, but right now it’s a little difficult to convert customers” from trucks, said Brad Parkhurst, transportation sourcing leader at manufacturer Owens Corning. “Right now, it’s a little difficult with service conditions in the market,” Parkhurst said. Missteps could lead to a loss of customers and business.
“It’s a pretty risky endeavour,” Parkhurst said. “If you convert (a customer) to intermodal and you don’t make that customer happy, you won’t have the chance to do it again.”
If a drayage operator can’t find a driver, or the driver can’t access a railyard, improved fluidity elsewhere in the network congeals,” says Rex Taylor, president of Taylor Logistics, a third-party logistics company based in Cincinnati that operates a fleet of 25 drayage tractors and chassis.
“We’ve had to turn business down because we don’t have the drivers,” Taylor told JOC.
Delays at intermodal yards are a big problem, too, Taylor said. “It would help if these ramps were open longer and we had more time to work. When they close at 5:00 p.m., that kills us.”