Bulk intermodal posts growth in 2002
Dec 1, 2002 12:00 PM, Editorial By Charles E Wilson
DESPITE an overall slow economy and a West Coast port shutdown, intermodal operations turned out to be one of the brighter spots in the bulk transportation sector in 2002. Market indicators suggest that 2003 should be even better for rail-truck transfer operations and tank container shipments.
In its Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics Report for the 2002 third quarter, the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) stated that rail intermodal volume was up 9.4%, compared with the same quarter in 2001. ISO container activity increased 11.8%. When third quarter results are combined with a 9.5% gain in the second quarter, 2002 showed the best six months of intermodal activity since 1994.
The upbeat statistics are reflected in financial reports released by most US and Canadian railroads. Norfolk Southern reported that third quarter intermodal revenues reached an all-time high of $310 million, 11% above the 2001 third quarter. Intermodal revenues were up 5% for the first nine months of 2002.
Canadian National Railway posted a 12% gain in intermodal revenue and a 22% increase in petroleum and chemical revenue. At Union Pacific, intermodal revenue increased 9%, and chemical revenue was up 2%.
Recent projections by the American Chemistry Council suggest that chemical shipments will continue to grow, perhaps at an accelerated rate, in 2003. This has to be good news for everyone involved in transloading because many of the chemical rail shipments are transferred to tank or dry bulk trailers at some point.
It is good news not just for operations in the United States and Canada, but also Mexico. Some US and Canadian shippers are viewing rail intermodal shipments to and from Mexico as a better alternative to the difficulties of truck movements.
Even though the Bush Administration announced an end to the moratorium on Mexican trucks operating in the US interior on November 27, it seems likely that little will change in the near term. Truck shipments still must be transferred at the border between US and Mexican carriers. Combined with tighter border security and slow customs clearance procedures, it's a cumbersome process.
Catering to that sentiment, Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern have begun offering expedited intermodal service to and from Mexico. Available to US customers throughout the East Coast, the railroads provide seamless service to the Mexico City area through an interchange agreement with Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM). The single-price, single-bill service moves in-bond, clearing Mexico customs in the Mexican interior, rather than at the Laredo, Texas/Nuevo Laredo, Nuevo Leon, border-crossing point.
In September, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway announced that CSX Intermodal is now a participant in the Mexi-Modal network. Other participants include Canadian National Railway and TFM. Mexi-Modal simplifies the process of coordinating railcar shipments throughout North America.
Rail service within Mexico has steadily improved since the industry was privatized by the Mexican government in the late 1990s. Several US railroads have taken stakes in the three privatized Mexican rail carriers, and significant investments have been made to upgrade the quality of equipment and service.
In addition, Mexican and US companies are actively developing a network of rail transloading facilities throughout Mexico. While the largest concentration is in the Mexico City area, transfer facilities have been established in all of the industrial centers in the country.
Most of the transfer locations were set up for dry bulk products, such as plastic pellets or foodgrade materials. However, government-approved hazardous chemical transloading facilities are now coming online. One of the first is Transbordos Internacionales Mexicanos SA de CV, which is profiled this month in Modern Bulk Transporter. More Mexican chemical transfer facilities are rumored to be in the works.
Mexico isn't the only North American country where new bulk transloading facilities are being put into service. US and Canadian transloading specialists continue to find new opportunities and new customers.
The need for rail transfer services shows no sign of diminishing. In fact, it seems very likely that bulk transloading will be a key player in the seamless transportation system that eventually evolves with a unified North American market.
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
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