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January 16 2023

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16 Journal of Commerce | J anuar y 16, 2023 www.joc.com International Maritime metering to be a consistent railroad policy going forward, "but it certainly can be an arrow in the quiver." Ports and terminal operators are addressing normal seasonal spikes in import volumes by adding gate hours when needed, applying "brute force" by adding more longshore crews to work vessels, and purchasing additional cranes to unload ships and ground equipment to move contain - ers through the yards, said Mark Sis- son, senior port planner and analyst at marine engineering firm AECOM. In the longer term, several ports including New York-New Jersey, Savannah, Houston, and New Orleans have announced plans for a physical expansion of their facilities, although Sisson cautioned those projects could take a decade or longer to complete. The current lull in import vol - umes will last another four to five months, which will help ports return to normal fluidity, Bennett said. While some industry experts expect import volumes to return to normal seasonal growth in the second half of 2023, Bennett said it's unlikely there will be a sustained cargo "surge" on the magnitude that occurred over the past two years. Still, Bennett said US ports and their supply chain partners should begin preparing now for whatever the next surge looks like, "and it will come." JOC email: bill.mongelluzzo@spglobal.com twitter: @billmongelluzzo into container storage facilities, said Daniel Smith, principal at the consul- tancy Tioga Group. "Marine terminals used to be our bu"ers," Smith said. However, ports and terminal oper- ators soon realized they had no bu"er capacity. At first, terminal operators relied on operational improvements such as adding gate hours and open- ing near-dock surge yards for the temporary storage of laden import containers. That strategy worked for a while, but import volumes kept growing and inland facilities, such as rail hubs and warehouses, could not handle the loads that were dumped on them, Smith said. Shipping lines contributed to con- gestion at rail hubs such as Chicago, Memphis, and Dallas via erratic policies on booking inland point intermodal (IPI) cargo, said Lawrence Gross, president and founder of Gross Transportation Consulting and a Jour- nal of Commerce analyst. Carriers in 2021 restricted IPI bookings in order to stop marine containers at the ports and rush the emptied containers back to Asia to be refilled with the next high-paying loads, he said. However, in late 2021, carriers turned the spigot back on, and the sudden rush of IPI containers over- whelmed the rail hubs, Gross said. He noted that the daily IPI container count went up 23 percent from December 2021 to April 2022, increas- ing 14 percent between March and April alone. The western railroads responded to a surge they could not handle by "metering" the train and car capacity they deployed to West Coast ports, causing rail container dwell times at marine terminals to soar. Gross said he does not expect US PORTS AND their inland supply chains are steadily correcting the con- gestion problems that overwhelmed them over the past two years, but unless they develop an arsenal of short- term measures to address cargo surges — while expanding their assets for the long term — congestion will resurface when volume growth resumes, accord- ing to transportation experts. The vessel backlogs, marine terminal congestion, and excessive container dwell times at ports and inland rail terminals have all eased significantly amid declining freight volumes, leading to improved cargo velocity, industry stakeholders told the Journal of Commerce's Port Perfor- mance webcast. "Velocity is what drives dwell time and congestion," Than Seeds, COO at intermodal equipment pro- vider (IEP) Flexi-Van Leasing, told the Dec.15 webcast. "Dwell times su"er when the infrastructure is operating at full capacity. There is no slack in the system." The most important lesson to be learned from two years of congestion is that port-related supply chains and inland infrastructure in the US unequivocally cannot handle sus- tained surges in cargo volume, said David Bennett, chief commercial o¡cer at forwarder Farrow. "The entire infrastructure was ill-prepared for this surge," he said. Building a 'buer' The port congestion problems that began in the summer of 2020 fol- lowing the lifting of initial COVID-19 lockdowns and continued until this summer were driven primarily by record and near-record import vol- umes that turned marine terminals on the West, East, and Gulf coasts Next time around US ports not ready for next cargo surge By Bill Mongelluzzo "The entire infrastructure was ill-prepared for this surge." The pandemic- induced surge in US imports is receding, but the lessons learned can help ports plan for the next demand spike. yhelfman / Shutterstock.com Importing & Exporting | Ports | Carriers | Breakbulk | Global Logistics

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