Domestic tank containers will become part of the transportation mix for cross-country, long-haul chemical hauling in the United States, according to Schneider National Bulk Carriers (SNBC) and its partners in a new project. Changing transportation dynamics are pushing the industry in that direction.

SNBC and its partners have staked out a leadership position in what they believe will become a critical component in chemical transport sector. Showing a distinctive American twist, the new SNBC domestic intermodal service was unveiled for chemical shippers and other guests during a February 23 special event in Houston, Texas.

Operations for the new service will commence in mid-2011 with daily stacktrain service from Marion, Ohio, and Houston to points along the West Coast. Final details are still being settled. Schneider Intermodal is a key partner in SNBC's new domestic Intermodal project.

SNBC image B “SNBC is taking a leadership role in what we believe is the latest innovation in domestic liquid bulk transportation,” Mark Rourke, president, transportation, Schneider National Inc, said during an exclusive interview with Bulk Transporter. “This new domestic intermodal service offers a more efficient and environmentally friendly truck-like service for longhaul chemical shipments.

“Tightening driver supply was one of the key reasons we developed this new service. It is getting harder to find long-haul drivers. In addition, SNBC’s new domestic intermodal service will save fuel and cut down traffic congestion. We believe these benefits have a strong appeal with our customers.

“Our initial thought was that most of the loaded movements would be westbound. However, we are finding that there is more backhaul potential than we thought initially. We will start with a focus on non-hazardous, non-commodity specialty chemicals, but hazardous cargoes could be considered in the future.”

New evolution

SNBC officials and their partners began work on the new domestic tank container service about 18 months ago and started reaching out to potential customers six months ago. What evolved is an intermodal service that is a perfect fit for the North American domestic liquid bulk intermodal market.

SNBC image D “We knew we had to have a product that looks and feels like a tank truck operation,” says George Grossardt, SNBC vice-president and general manager. “We needed a domestic tank container that was designed specifically for this market, and we found it through Exsif Worldwide.

“The container we'll be using is 40 feet long with a capacity up to 7,133 gallons, which is very comparable to a DOT407 tank trailer. We'll probably have about 150 of these containers in our fleet by the end of the first year. In the past, US intermodal operators tried to use 20-ft ISO tank containers. Those containers are designed for international operations and are not efficient for US domestic operations.”

SNBC image C Joe Morrissey, SNBC vice-president of commercial services, adds that the new domestic tank container service offers transformational potential for the tank truck industry. “Trucking capacity has become very tight at a time when our customers seem to have an insatiable appetite for more longhaul capacity,” he says.

Morrissey stresses the difficulty in finding longhaul truck drivers in today's market. “Many truck drivers want to go home at the end of the shift,” he says. “They don't want to spend days and weeks on the road. They want the regional drayage work.

Combined effort

The new program will be fully managed by SNBC and most of the services will be provided in partnership with Schneider Intermodal. The intermodal unit will oversee the stacktrain rail movements, and all container drayage will be provided by SNBC. Various Schneider truck terminals will provide most of the container depot services for the domestic tank containers.

“We want to use Schneider facilities and equipment as much as possible in this operation,” Grossardt says. “We believe that helps give us a clear competitive edge.”

Chemical shipments to the West Coast are the initial focus of the new service. “Our research suggests that the longhaul market to the West Coast is underserved,” Grossardt says. “Our focus is on longhaul rail movements that are a minimum of 750 miles, and we're not going to offer the intermodal service where trucks are more competitive. Drayage movements of the tank containers should stay within a 200-mile range of the origin and destination points.”

SNBC's domestic tank containers will be transported on Schneider's dedicated “Orange Train” from Marion, which offers daily West Coast service Monday through Friday. Houston service also is provided Monday through Friday but not on a dedicated Schneider train. West Coast destination cities initially include Los Angeles, California; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington.

SNBC image E As the new SNBC tank container service grows, management plans to add other origin cities, including Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charlotte, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; and Reserve, Louisiana. Customer demand will dictate when new origin points are added.

SNBC is offering fifth-morning delivery for shipments from Marion and Houston. “That is very comparable to truck shipments, and it is more cost effective because a tractor-trailer rig and driver would be tied up seven to eight days for a round trip,” Grossardt says.

SNBC managers hope to achieve a turn rate of 2.4 times per month for each tank container, which is typical for Schneider Intermodal's box containers. One advantage of the new service is that SNBC's headhaul to the West Coast is usually a repositioning backhaul for most US domestic container operations.

Loaded on the westbound run, the domestic tank containers can be stacked two high. Empty domestic tank containers potentially could be stacked three-high for eastbound repositioning moves, because the overall height of three SNBC domestic tank containers is the same as two stacked dry containers.

DOT407 similarity

SNBC image HIntermodal equipment suppliers worked very closely with SNBC in developing a custom tank container and chassis. The patent-pending RoadRail Tank system was designed by International Transport Equipment Corp (ITEC) initially for the North American domestic market. During the development stage that lasted about three years, Kenneth Haut, ITEC president, sought the expertise of Exsif Worldwide Inc, SNBC, China International Marine Containers (CIMC), Reinke Manufacturing Co Inc, and Trans World Equipment Corp to make sure the equipment specifications met the needs of the customers. The tank container will be manufactured CIMC under a manufacturing agreement and the chassis will be fabricated by Reinke.

“We spent about three years developing this tank container, which we are calling the Intermodal 407, because we wanted to get the design right,” says Jeremy D Bergbaum, Exsif Worldwide president. “This is a robust domestic tank container that has a cargo capacity equal to or greater than a DOT407 trailer. The Intermodal 407 will be exclusive to SNBC initially.”

SNBC image G The T11 UN portable tank container was designed to mirror a DOT407 chemical trailer. A beam-style container, it is 40 feet long; six feet, four inches high; and eight feet high. The straight-barrel tank is fabricated from 316L stainless steel and is insulated with two inches of glass wool covered by a glass reinforced plastic jacket.

SNBC image f Unlike most tank containers, the Intermodal 407 has a side-mounted ladder for access to the expanded-metal work platform on top. Fort Vale tank hardware is positioned similarly to hardware on a DOT407 trailer.

With a capacity up to 7,133 gallons, the T11 tank container can handle a wide range of hazardous and non-hazardous chemical cargoes. Typical cargoes will be in the range of eight to 11 pounds per gallon.

SNBC image I One of the special aspects of the SNBC program is that ITEC designed the tank container and the dedicated chassis that goes with it at the same time. As a result, they were able to achieve a combined tare weight of 15,149 pounds (9,259 pounds for the tank and 5,890 pounds for the chassis). Chassis and tank have an overall height of 11 feet one inch.

“This is a little lower than some DOT407 trailers,” says Kenneth Haut, president of International Transport Equipment Corp, which represents chassis maker Reinke Manufacturing. “Typical ISO tank containers on a drop-deck chassis will have a 12-ft four-inch overall height, which is too high for many US loading racks.”

When combined, all of the equipment and logistics elements of the new domestic tank service give SNBC a better way to move liquid bulk chemicals coast to coast, according to Grossardt. It is a way to transform the way longhaul chemical shipments are handled. ♦