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Could more rail instead of road transport help ease supply chain issues?

More traffic for CSX Blasdell Intermodal train terminal?

BLASDELL, N.Y. — We've been warned that our Christmas season may be dimmed a bit with the supply chain problems affecting the availability of some items as gifts. 

We're far from the coastal shipping ports but we may have one element of the supply chain in our backyard which could help carry more of the load.

Trucks towing container loads keep coming and going at the CSX Intermodal terminal on Lake Avenue in Blasdell.   

And we see those loaded trains carrying those same now double-stacked containers full of toys, appliances, and other consumer items. They are just like we see on those on massive container ships lined up in the harbor or stuck at the dock at the congested coastal shipping ports.

Jack Ampuja is a former logistics company executive and now a supply chain expert on the faculty at Niagara University. He says "We let the driver pick up the freight in Western New York and take it to the yard. It gets loaded onto a train. The train is much more efficient for the long haul, the cost per mile, and so on. Maybe a bit slower but the selling point is that the railroads have made this very reliable."

A spokesperson for the CSX rail line declined an interview. But she did state that the Association of American Railroads reports that CSX intermodal volumes are up 12% year to date versus 2020 and up 10% compared to 2019. They could not provide terminal-specific data but sources have told us the Blasdell facility is much busier.

The now overburdened ports in California and elsewhere around the country have similar rail lines that perhaps could be used more so for this intermodal approach to help cope with the limited number of long haul truck drivers, equipment, or near port warehousing and staff

So would it make sense to put more of it on railroads like CSX to move it out? 

Ampuja says, "Intermodal again - because the train is running continuously. It doesn't have to stop for any rest. So even though it might run slower that might four or five days service - it becomes very competitive."

Ampuja says the Biden White House may pressure larger companies like Walmart, Target, UPS, and even trucking firms like JB Hunt for solutions like more rail transport. That plan might more effectively utilize truck drivers and equipment for strictly local deliveries as terminal cranes load those containers onto the truck trailer chassis.

Of course, Ampuja says they must then recruit more local drivers and get the management of port facilities and large overseas shipping companies to go along. As he puts it "They left it to private industry. And I don't endorse a lot of government involvement. But I think there are times when it would be very helpful to have the government guiding and sort of pulling things together."  

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