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Rail Capacity Issues and Their Effect on Port Congestion


While labor and chassis shortages have had significant impacts on California ports in recent months, railcar shortages are now taking over as the main limitation to port flow. After February’s exceptionally severe winter weather in the Midwest and Texas, railcar positioning became challenging, with well times doubling in just two weeks. The railcar shortage only adds to the continuing overwhelming imports from Asia and increased online shopping demand.

When ocean vessels arrive at ports and docks for unloading, they typically discharge their rail containers immediately, allowing trains to move along while avoiding congestion. However, without enough railcars to receive the containers, railyards are filling with static containers, and ships are having to keep excess containers onboard for prolonged periods.

Both on-dock and off-dock rail yards are experiencing these container backlogs, leaving no alternative options for temporary container storage. Western railroads are already working to push more railcars to the region, and US railroads plan to secure additional intermodal cars later this year from the national TTX Company.

In the meantime, terminal operators are urging the proper use of real-time information and effective communication to identify and alleviate rail network bottlenecks. Other than railcar shortages, additional factors that railroads should consider include potential shortages in crew and uncertainties in railcar storage locations. With increased vigilance and communication, the logistics industry can begin to smooth out the railcar wrinkles as this new normal for logistics begins.

Supply Chains are complex as they have a lot of moving parts which means a lot can go wrong. While there are a few issues you might be able to control or prevent, there are many that are out of your hands. Port congestion, rail capacity and container availability issues are just a few examples of problems not many can control. However, having a reliable logistics company to support your supply chain can help mitigate several possible issues and offer advice for times such as these. ClearFreight prides itself on offering its customers exceptional customer service and helping to stay on top of industry news. Contact our team today to learn how we can help support your supply chain while making managing it less of a hassle.

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