How west coast port congestion affects deliveries
March 4, 2015
In November 2014, the American Journal of Transportation reported on how port congestion at the US west coast ports is affecting transportation efficiency. The port congestion has resulted in reduced transit times, equipment availability shortages and lost revenue for those missing freight deadlines and those shippers being left with the cost of hefty equipment storage charges.
The reasons AJOT cited for the port congestion had to do with the new modern container vessels, able to carry thousands more steel containers, and an outdated port infrastructure that is not equipped to off-load, reload and generally service those massive ships. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was also engaged in a long labor dispute and contract negotiations, which influenced port efficiencies. (A tentative agreement was reached on February 20, 2015.) The result of these inefficiencies has been felt by the moving industry and is impactful to business and customer expectations.
There is a domino effect as a result of the lingering port congestion: due to congested ports, there is limited space for newly arrived containers to be stored; because of these space constraints, containers are delayed in loading when they arrive at the port; because containers are being loaded slowly, railroad transportation from inland points like Chicago are being controlled in an effort to slow down the arrival of containers to match the rate that they are being loaded. The railroad tightly controls the specific dates when a shipment may be taken to the railroad yard (called “return-to-rail” dates), creating a longer than normal gap between completing our service and getting our clients’ shipments underway.
One example was a shipment in December 2014. The client’s container was packed and loaded in Chicago on December 12. The railroad company would not allow the container to be transported to the rail yard in Chicago to start the journey to California ports until December 26 (the return-to-rail date). As a result, the container wasn’t loaded on the vessel at the west coast port until January 16.
It is more difficult to give our clients clear estimates on when their household goods shipments will be loaded, moved inland to the port and finally be loaded onto a vessel. Our move managers work diligently to find carriers that have available equipment and favorable return-to-rail dates for our clients. We support our customers through communication about recent limitations and challenges and keeping them abreast of changes that may occur in the shipping schedule of their furniture, children’s favorite toys and means to begin their new adventures in a different country. Honest, open communication is key to managing these challenges for our clients and our offices alike. Each day, we monitor changes around the world in order to best serve our clients’ relocation needs.