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May 26, 2014

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58 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE MAY 26.2014 TOP 100 IMPORTERS AND EXPORTERS By Mark Szakonyi North American intermodal operators will have to bounce back quickly from winter to reclaim and increase business FOR THE AVERAGE American, the sever- ity of last winter's weather is a distant memory. U.S. and Canadian railroads still wrestling with backlogs and the snow-ice fallout wish they could say the same. Now it's a race against time for those railroads to clear the backlogs. How quickly they can do so while improving their intermo- dal services will determine how much they can increase their domestic volumes in the near term. The railroads are at a "critical cross- roads" in which they have the generally slower month of May to rid backlogged cargo, boost train speed and reduce termi- nal dwell time before traffi c picks up again in June, Larry Gross, senior consultant at FTR Associates, said during a webinar this month. The severe, protracted winter forced many railroads to slow trains and prevented them from regaining operational fl uidity. Intermodal services have improved, but the progress has been slow, Gross said. The average intermodal train speed used to be around 32 to 33 mph but was 29 mph in the week ending May 9. Slow operations on some railroads has prompted competitors to add new, faster services. Union Pacifi c Railroad, for exam- ple, launched a service this month between Portland, Oregon, and Chicago to take advantage of longer transit times on BNSF Railway's services from the Pacifi c North- west to Chicago. Intermodal speeds and average terminal dwell time are only indicators of service, not a full measure of rail reliability. Railroads' ability to consistently deliver goods when they say they will has been a bigger draw for shippers than shorter transits, Gross said. Unfortunately, a broader service reliability Working on the Railroad

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