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Union Pacific Railroad and Norfolk Southern Railway have reached Stage Two in their plan to provide a shorter domestic intermodal route between Los Angeles and points in the Southeast.
On Sept. 10, the Class Is expected to begin shifting westbound Atlanta-to-L.A. service from a Memphis, Tenn., gateway to a new Shreveport, La., gateway. The railroads plan to offer an “on-time or free” guarantee on BlueStreak SuperFlyer service between the Southeast and L.A.
New westbound service will feature a fourth-morning move from Atlanta; fifth-morning train from Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.; and sixth-morning move from Miami.
BlueStreak trains heading West will use the Meridian Speedway, an NS/Kansas City Southern joint venture line between Shreveport and Meridian, Miss.
UP and NS launched faster eastbound BlueStreak service in May, and so far, trains have been running 99.9 percent on time, the railroads said.
Meanwhile, UP has begun to build-up intermodal terminal capacity in the West — literally. Last month, the Class I launched construction on a $90 million intermodal facility in Bexar County, Texas, near San Antonio.
Containers to follow trailers
Scheduled to open in late 2008, the San Antonio Intermodal Terminal initially will handle 100,000 trailers annually; eventually, the terminal will be expanded to process 250,000 trailers and containers each year.
The facility will feature computer systems designed to coordinate all rail-car, truck, trailer and container moves, and reduce the time a truck stops at the gate from the national average of four minutes to 30 or 45 seconds.
Trucks currently travel to Houston to drop off containers for rail moves because intermodal capacity is in short supply around San Antonio.
U.S. and Canadian railroads’ intermodal traffic remained down through 2007’s first 33 weeks, decreasing about 1 percent year-over-year to 9 million units, according to the Association of American Railroads.
But a port in each nation has registered opposite results with volume.
In fiscal-year 2007, which ended June 30, the Port of Savannah, Ga., handled 2.4 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) — a 145 percent increase compared with FY2006 and a new volume record.
The container traffic helped the facility become the East Coast’s second-busiest terminal and United States’ fourth-busiest port, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.
During the past 10 years, the port’s TEU volume has skyrocketed 235 percent from 697,259 to 2.4 million.
Meanwhile, British Columbia’s Port of Vancouver set a monthly volume record in June at 7.8 million tons. The tonnage surpassed the previous high established in October 2006 by nearly 300,000 tons, according to the Vancouver Port Authority.
Through 2007’s first half, total tonnage increased 4.5 percent year-over-year to a record 39.9 million tons.
Container volume totaled 1.1 million units, up 5 percent compared with first-half 2006 volume primarily because of stronger-than-expected export traffic.
Talk about tough comparisons. In the second quarter, North American rail intermodal volume totaled 3.53 million units — not exactly a minuscule amount given the sluggish U.S. economy.
But volume decreased 1.5 percent compared with second-quarter 2006, when the intermodal industry set a record at 3.58 million units and posted the second-best quarterly total ever, according to the Intermodal Association of North America’s (IANA) quarterly “Intermodal Market Trends & Statistics” report released last month.
The intermodal industry hadn’t registered a traffic decline since first-quarter 2002, when weak volume ended a streak of 20-straight quarterly gains, the report states.
During the second quarter, international container traffic, which has led volume increases the past five years, decreased 1.9 percent to 2.1 million units compared with the same 2006 period. Domestic intermodal volume declined 0.8 percent to 1.4 million units even though domestic containers rose 9.2 percent to 889,305 units. The culprit: railroads continued to de-emphasize trailer traffic, which fell 14.2 percent to 523,818 units, IANA said.
“On the positive side, intermodal marketing company volume rose 2.2 percent, the first volume growth over the prior year period since 2003,” the report states. “This suggests a market-share gain in the domestic freight market.”