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LA-LB port congestion exacerbated by railcar scarcity

A SHORTAGE of intermodal railcars has become the top driver of congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to terminal operators, although western railroads say they are working to push more railcars to Southern California

06 April 2021 - 19:00
A SHORTAGE of intermodal railcars has become the top driver of congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to terminal operators, although western railroads say they are working to push more railcars to Southern California.

The railcar shortage began last month due to severe winter weather that disrupted rail operations in the midsection of the country. It's having a greater impact on cargo flow at North America's largest import gateway than shortages of labour and chassis.



Railcar dwell times on the terminals have doubled to about 10 days, which indicates railcar shortages have increased dramatically, reports IHS Media.



Railcar shortages are the biggest driver of terminal congestion for SSA Marine, which operates three terminals in Long Beach. 'It is the worst problem for us right now. We can't get railcars,' said Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers, which operates terminals in Oakland and Seattle. He said all West Coast ports are experiencing intermodal railcar shortages.



The impact of the railcar shortages on terminal operators is becoming quantifiable. The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA), which represents terminal operators and shipping lines on the West Coast, said in its monthly operational report on March 19 that the average dwell time of eastbound rail containers on the 12 terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach continued to increase in February, 'causing serious congestion problems'.



Rail containers remained on terminals for 8.6 days, up from 7.9 days in January. Additionally, 55.7 per cent of the containers remained on the terminals for more than five days, up from 50.2 per cent the month before, PMSA said. Terminal operators said that four days or less is the preferred dwell time for rail containers.



Mr DeNike said SSA normally gets eastbound rail containers off its terminals in three to four days. 'Now it's 14 to 15 days,' he said.



The congestion caused by rail containers backing up on the terminals exceeds the problems terminal operators face with chassis shortages and labour shortages due to the coronavirus disease 2019, a situation that is now improving, Mr DeNike said.


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