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Transportation News Bulletins - Logistics

Our current transportation logistics news bulletins are powered by SMC3

Latest Winter Storm Disrupting Some Freight
Friday, 08 January 2010 00:00
Rail, river, road transportation affected across broad area of U.S.

The latest in a series of strong winter storms is disrupting all forms of surface freight transportation, as rivers and rail switches ice up and some Interstate highways have closed at times from heavy snow and ice buildup.

BNSF Railway told customers on Jan. 7 that its service “is being impacted by extreme cold and winter weather conditions across the Central and Northern Regions, which includes Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, North and South Dakota. The extreme cold is resulting in slow operating conditions.

Farm product markets say spot prices of soybeans and other commodities are being pushed higher as periodic ice jams and other icing conditions on the Illinois River have slowed movement of grain barge tows.

Although a Coast Guard official said no problems were being reported as of mid-morning Jan. 8 at St Louis, local news reports say the ice slowed nearby movement of Mississippi River tows through a major lock in the past week. 

And that is just the latest round, as the Coast Guard official said a towboat and its barges had briefly gotten trapped in ice farther up the Mississippi a couple of weeks ago.

This week’s storm briefly shut down some Midwest airport runways and canceled or delayed flights. A section of Interstate 90 remained closed Jan. 8 in southwestern Minnesota, as the state department of transportation warned about “dangerous driving conditions.”

The impact was not just in the Rocky Mountains and Midwest, either. Norfolk Southern Railway recently got its Lamberts Point coal ship-loading terminal in Norfolk, Va., back to normal operation after a major December storm interruption that was followed by mechanical problems for its conveyor belts.

But with no letup in icy temperatures, the coal now arriving from Appalachian mines reportedly has to be thawed before it can be blended and loaded, slowing that facility.

Similarly, the ongoing deep freeze can cause problems to worsen by the day along the inland waterways, as ice buildup clogs shore facilities to make it harder to handle cargo or even maneuver barges around docks. And if it builds a major ice jam in one of the river channels, it could trap some cargoes for days or even weeks.

The Journal of Commerce Online, 1/8/2010

Despite improving data, a new year brings the same economic outlook
Thursday, 07 January 2010 00:00
While some indicators are turning positive, freight volumes have yet to catch up.

WALTHAM, Mass.—While it is a new year, the economic outlook appears to look very similar to previous points of the current recession, according to various economic indicators.

But even though the recession is clearly still ongoing, due to things like high unemployment, tight credit availability, and a challenging housing market, among other factors, there is no shortage of optimism when examining some key data points across the general economy along with those data points that specifically focus on the freight transportation and logistics markets.

Among some of the recent notable economic indicators are:

  • a 52.9 percent December reading for consumer confidence from the New York-based Conference Board, which was up from 50.6 percent in November;
  • retail sales from November 24-December 24 were up 3.6 percent year-over-year, according to data from Spending Pulse, a subsidiary of MasterCard;
  • five straight months of growth from the Institute of Supply Management's manufacturing index, with December hitting 55.9 (readings at 50 or above indicate growth);
  • the December Cass Freight Index was up 1.9 percent year-over-year in December, representing the first annual increase since December 2007;
  • new orders for manufactured goods in November were up 1.1 percent—or $3.9 billion—to $365.3 billion, according to the Department of Commerce, and shipments of manufactured durable goods in November were up for the third straight month at $0.4 billion or 0.2 percent to $166.9 billion.

But despite these signs, volumes for trucking, rail and other freight transportation modes remain sluggish, with some gradual signs of improvement, due to easier year-over-year comparisons. This was evident in the recent announcement by the American Trucking Associations, which recently noted that its advance seasonally adjusted (SA) For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index was up 2.7 percent in November—its highest level in a year.

The increase in trucking tonnage can be viewed as the exception rather than the norm, according to a recent report from Wolfe Research President Ed Wolfe, whom noted in December that the overall pace of freight demand is inconsistent, with "few signs of consistent demand improvement across modes," adding that freight demand has remained in a relative lull since July.

While the overall economic picture largely remains a "mixed bag," it has not stopped some shippers from planning for future growth, according to Chris Norek, principal of Chain Connectors, an Atlanta-based supply chain consultancy.

"Shippers in the $50-$500 million category are already planning for the future, when things are more likely to be back on track with the economy," said Norek. "They are viewing present conditions as a time to make improvements to their supply chains, as well as making needed investments into things like human resources, IT and other efficiencies."

Logistics Management, 1/7/2010

NAFTA Trade Grew for Fifth Month in October
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 00:00
Lowest year-over-year decline since December 2008

Surface trade between the United States and its North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico grew for the fifth consecutive month in October and showed improvement in the rate of decline from a year earlier.

Trade using surface transportation among the NAFTA countries amounted to $61.4 billion in October, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics of the U.S. Department of Transportation. That was a gain of 7.2 percent from September to October, picking up the pace of steady growth since May.

Compared with last October, surface trade fell 15.5 percent, slowing the pace of year-over-year declines of more than 20 percent through the first nine months of 2009. The bottom of the slump was in May, when surface trade fell 35.4 percent compared with a year earlier to $47.9 billion.

About 88 percent of U.S. trade by value with Canada and Mexico moves by truck, rail and pipeline.

U.S.–Canada surface transportation trade totaled $36.3 billion in October, down 19 percent compared to October 2008. The value of imports carried by truck was 15.8 percent lower in October 2009 compared to October 2008, while the value of exports carried by truck was 9.5 percent lower during this period.

U.S.–Mexico surface transportation trade totaled $25.1 billion in October, down 10 percent compared to October 2008. The value of imports carried by truck was 4.2 percent lower in October 2009 than October 2008 while the value of exports carried by truck was 13.5 percent lower.

The Journal of Commerce Online, 1/6/2010

Report Says Ships, Aircraft Could Cut Pollution
Tuesday, 05 January 2010 00:00
Report cites operational, design changes to slow greenhouse gas growth

Operational and design changes in global aviation and marine transportation could reduce growth in greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50 percent by 2050, according to a new report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

The report, “Aviation and Marine Transportation: GHG Mitigation Potential and Challenges,” said aviation and marine transportation are responsible for approximately 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and 3 percent globally.

The report estimated that carbon dioxide emission from global aviation will grow 3.1 percent annually over the next 40 years resulting in a 300 percent increase by 2050, and that international marine transportation emissions are projected to grow 1 to 2 percent a year, increasing to at least 50 percent over 2007 levels by 2050.

Proposed solutions include improvements in operations and engine efficiency and design of aircraft and ships, and transitioning to less carbon-intensive fuels and transportation modes where possible.

The report, by David McCollum and Gregory Gould of the University of California at Davis and David Greene of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is available at

The Journal of Commerce, 1/5/2010

Inside World Trade: A Welcome Disruption
Monday, 04 January 2010 00:00

Three years ago, we published an interview with Clayton M. Christensen, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. His work is renowned for his landmark theory of “disruptive technology” and its ability to disrupt successful business strategies to create competitive advantage.

Christensen explains it this way: “A disruption is an innovation that comes into a market that enables a whole new population of people who historically might not have had the skill to use or the money to buy a product to have access to the product. Examples of disruptions in the past would be a Canon copier or a Dell computer.”

Greg Kefer, director of corporate marketing for GT Nexus, believes this exact dynamic is at work today in the supply chain software and technology sector. Specifically, he thinks the market is moving towards the rental model and control will shift from the seller to the buyer. Of course, on-demand software is already starting to make news headlines and it’s likely to emerge as an accepted standard within the next few years. The best part is that we’re getting closer than ever to true end-to-end visibility in the supply chain.

This issue also delves into profound changes underway in the LTL trucking and intermodal rail sectors. Indeed, the recession has been another kind of market ‘disruption’ that has prompted transportation executives to rethink their business. LTLs are diversifying their business offerings to move deeper into their customers’ supply chains. One of the more unique examples have been LTL’s collaborations with ocean carriers, such as Con-way Freight’s alliance with APL Logistics to provide port-to-door service from nine origin points in Asia to any zip code in the U.S.

On the intermodal rail side, service improvements are where the action is and shippers stand to reap the benefits. All the major Class Is are pumping millions of dollars into double-stacking routes, improving their networks, streamlining switching yards, and essentially providing a more ‘truck-like’ experience, in the words of Bill Matheson, President of Intermodal Services for Schneider National.

You’ll also find coverage this month on a number of other developments—some more sci-fi than others— that could emerge as disruptive technologies in the supply chain. For starters, check out Amy Zuckerman’s report on Connected Vehicle technology. CV technology works by embedding highly advanced sensors in the wheels and engines of cars and trucks, which gather information on road conditions and traffic flow, then transmit the data to roadside traffic management centers and nearby vehicles. The result is more efficient traffic flow, less accidents, and less greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, the aviation industry is quickly adopting biofuels to replace conventional jet fuel. Here’s the cool part: the biofuel is derived from camelina—an indelible biofeedstock that grows in soil that cannot support other food crops.

These are disruptions to get excited about, and we’ll be bringing you plenty more in 2010.

Welcome to the New Year., 1/4/2010

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