No easy fixes for US rail in 2021

Intermodal shippers expecting easy fixes to rail reliability issues that plagued 2020 are apt to be disappointed next year. While intermodal executives are eager to sit with railroads and cargo owners in 2021 to discuss what can be done to solve the supply chain congestion, there are no easy solutions. And universally accepted ideas — hiring more yard workers for rail terminals, more drayage drivers, and more warehouse labor to restore fluidity — cost money.

The service issues have their costs, too. Congestion hurt J.B. Hunt’s bottom line in the third quarter, with the largest US intermodal marketing company estimating at least 20,000 opportunities to haul cargo were lost because there was not enough intermodal capacity. “As we go into next year, we will talk about ‘What are the ways that we can expand capacity in the rail system without necessarily buying new terminals?’” said Darren Field, J.B. Hunt’s executive vice president of intermodal. “The long-term value for railroads can’t just be that they’re going to expand and buy more parking in order to accommodate intermodal growth. We all have to work with our customers, railroads, and us together, in order to drive more productivity through those terminals. I am 100 percent convinced that railroads want to do that.”

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