Is the return trip of an empty intermodal car a revenue run for the railroad carrying it?

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Is the return trip of an empty intermodal car a revenue run for the railroad carrying it?
Posted by steve m on Thursday, July 05, 2018 8:19 PM

Was watching the Rochelle, IL TRAINS cam and noticed a train on UP that was entirely empty intermodal well cars. Who pays for their return shipment (they were going west). In fact who pays for a privately owned railcar being returned? How about returning a car to the home railroad?

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, July 06, 2018 10:08 AM

steve m
Was watching the Rochelle, IL TRAINS cam and noticed a train on UP that was entirely empty intermodal well cars. Who pays for their return shipment (they were going west). In fact who pays for a privately owned railcar being returned? How about returning a car to the home railroad?

Empty intermodal cars are not on 'return trips'.  Intermodal terminals know the expected 'footage' of the equipment they will need to handle their loadings of both loaded and empty boxes in intermodal service.  If a terminal knows it will be loading 20K feet of intermodal cars and it has 40K feet in it's staging area and it also knows that other terminals of needing additional footage of cars to handle the needs of their boxes - empty intermodal cars will get moved to the terminal that needs them.

Loading patterns are known commodities at each intermodal terminal.

Trailer Train, the leading supplier of intermodal cars is a entity that is owned jointly by the carriers.  Individual railroads have also built their own intermodal cars.  Cars are moved around the intermodal network to support the timely loading of boxes.  Car Hire rules apply to the cars.

         

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Posted by steve m on Friday, July 06, 2018 1:50 PM

Thanks for the reply. Just saw another dedicated empty well car train heading west. This was about 5 minutes ago. Must be a lot of merchandise coming into western ports. I somehow see piles of empty containers stacking up in Chicago and the East!

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, July 06, 2018 7:36 PM

Railroad can rent TTX cars from the pool and then control them like they are company-owned for the rental duration.   So, baretable moves generally don't have any incremental cost for the equipment.

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by CMQ_9017 on Friday, July 06, 2018 7:57 PM

It's called an equipment reposition move, or 'repo' for short. And if you're moving nothing, it costs you. My boss used to say "We aren't in the habit of moving sailboat fuel around here" but you do have to keep equipment moving to ensure fluidity in the network -- loaded or empty.  The trade imbalance right now basically means you're repo'ing equipment around, you just want to either do it a.) mixed in on a revenue run or b.) on a basis when you accumulate enough equipment. Some lanes are priced to take into account the repo costs.... also keep in mind just because you see containers too those aren't always full. Luckily for the RRs, an empty container they don't own can be a 'revenue' move but priced advantageously to keep the IMC partnership alive. So an entire empty well car train is a repo move, and if someone else (another RR for example, say NS) needs it they pay for the equipment (car hire) move & reservation(use of equipment). But keep in mind, equipment is typically a net-revenue generator, so in the grand scheme the cost of moving empty over the lifetime in theory should be less than the revenue earned by the asset. 

Not everyone gets to use TTX equipment, just the Class Is, Pan Am (a stakeholder) and their partner lines that they send the equipment to. 

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Posted by bratkinson on Saturday, July 07, 2018 1:23 AM

Working at an intermodal ramp, it's always a major 'juggling act' to have the right amount of equipment (empty containers, chassis, train) available at all times. 

Depending on the season (Sep-Dec is typically the busiest), there may be a shortage of chassis to ground all the loads from an incoming train.  There's a number of private owner chassis (Schneider, for example), that can only be used under one of their containers unless, by prior arrangement under unusual situations, a Schneider container may be put on a 'pool' chassis (TSXZ, etc).  JB Hunt has similar restrictions on their chassis, and some of their older containers will not fit 'standard' chassis due to their tunnel design. 

Even having enough parking space at the ramp to hold all the containers & trailers both inbound and outbound can become problematic as well.  Double-parking invariably causes truckers to wander around looking for a container that we know is there (should be, but doesn't mean another trucker took it by mistake...a driver may see the container they want, but back under the one next to it, etc), but not visible as it's been double-parked in.  I've even observed a 'triple parked' container that was in between another at each end...but that was in an area where containers & trailers are normally parked back to back.  Sometimes, when there's an excess of empty containers with chassis on hand, the containers are removed, stacked 3 high, and chassis stacked as well, either 'on their bumper' at a 70 degree angle, or simply stacked on top of one another 3-4 high. 

Having enough train available for containers and trailers is also another ball to be juggled.  Invariably, there's times there's too much train, or not enough.  Loading  priority at the CSX ramp I worked at was UPS loads first, Schneider loads, all other loads (private owner & pool), UPS repos, Schneider repos, other private owner repos, and lastly, 'pool' empties such as CSXUs and UMXUs.  Depending on when the shortage of train space is determined, it may be possible to have some bare tables (spines) or well cars (buckets) shipped to us.  But they usually don't arrive until the next day, so something had to be left behind until the next train or day.  So who picks up the tab for moving bare tables & buckets around?  As mentioned earlier, the TTX cars (DTTX, for example) may or may not generate revenue to the owning company as they are owned by the railroads.  I'm guessing the RR moves them for free, unless they're going to another railroad.  But remember, there's a limit to train lengths, so moving empty cars is probably done only when there's space (footage) available.

For what it's worth, where/when I worked at CSX Intermodal, there was a daily conference call between all ramps to determine what needs to be moved where that day.  Some ramps may be hoping to get x number of empties, another may want bare hitch cars, and others, buckets.  The result of the call was a list of how many pool container and even private containers that should go from/to each ramp pair.  Empty containers, for example, would have a minimum and a maximum number specified for each ramp to send.  Of course, there has to be enough available outbound train space to ship them.  

At the West Springfield MA, ramp where I worked, we could sometimes get an extra 300-500 feet of empty cars sent from Worcester on the back of Q017.  The empties would be left on the main while Q017 picked up at WSPR, and a yard switcher (if available) would bring over the empty cars 'shortly', according to the yardmaster.  Unfortunately, that practice stopped about 2010 or so, as it was claimed to be too time consuming and delayed Q017.  Perhaps 2-3 years later, we had to all but crawl on the floor, grovel a bit, and kiss their feet begging to get cars from Worcester...all that just to get approval from Jacksonville, first.  What 'sold' them was we didn't have enough bare tables to send out UPS on Q019 later that night!

Conversely, if we had more train arrive than we had space for, the excess cars would be put over on the yard side, and we'd have to beg the yardmaster for a switch later that day.  

W. Springfield is a comparatively small intermodal ramp.  The larger ramps have all these problems plus many more as trains are almost always moving in or moving out, and trying to project needs for bare cars or empty containers is somewhere between 'science', 'magic' or SWAG - Scientific Wild A** Guess.  When there's a shortage of either, it becomes 'rob Peter to pay Paul', essentially 'swiping' a couple <whatever> from the planned train 8 hours from now to get the next train loaded and gone now.  The 'swipe' may cascade from train to train until it eventually smoothes out, sometimes by an incoming train of all bare tables and/or buckets.

Throw in an occassional bad ordered car that was already loaded to go out, (I think our now-retired car knocker, Louie, LOVED giving us red BAD ORDER tags) so we'd have to unload the car (loaded containers & trailers), find another to move those to (sometimes unloading/grounding other containers and/or trailers), redefine our outbound blocks if needed, and wait for the outbound conductor to grumble a lot having to make a cut, drop the B/O on the RIP track, THEN assemble his train from 2-3 tracks, usually.

Then there's sometimes frozen derails to deal with, switches buried in the snow, or even a minor freight derailment on/adjacent to 'our' lead tracks into or out from the intermodal yard to contend with.   Unless the local switcher is 'available' and can pull our outbound train from the wrong end and put it in 'their' yard ahead of time, Q017 would have to cut from their train (perhaps on the main line outside of town), pull the tracks to be added to Q017, drop those on the main somewhere he can run around them, couple up to the cars being added, then back up and couple to the rest of Q017.

I'm happy I don't have to keep juggling all those fun and games.  I retired 3.5 years ago!

  

 

 

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Posted by Deggesty on Saturday, July 07, 2018 10:08 AM

I had an experience with an intermodal train this past April as I was on my way to Bristol, Virginia, from Charlottesville. In Marion, we had to wait while a westbound train (for Memphis or Meridian?) crossed the highway. I did not count the cars, but there were far more empty tables than loads.

Johnny

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Posted by steve m on Saturday, July 07, 2018 11:39 AM

This would make a good TRAINS mag short article! 

 

I think I found what is going on. There was a recent article that said that Los Angelas harbor was crowded with ships. One reason was speculated as goods flooding in to beat the new Trump Tarriffs. It also indicated that it was more likely a backup due to longshoremen not working July 4th resulting in a backup. 

I had read an article recounting a China bound ship rushing to deliver soybeans to beat their tariff.

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Posted by MP173 on Monday, July 09, 2018 7:56 AM

I watch the daily parade of NS intermodal on the Chesterton, In. web cam and it is always interesting to see the bare table movements (usually Monday or Tuesday) going into Chicago.  Then you will see the intermodals which will carry a large number of BTs in the consist.  

With all of this west to east movements of both domestics and international containers/trailers, where do these end up?  It seems as if there are far more moving eastbound than returning west.

The discussion on the West Springfield intermodal operations by bratkinson was quite interesting.  How are intermodal loads "booked"?  Typically, how much notice does the railroad have of the incoming loads?  How are the last minute or rush trailers/containers handled, particularly those of UPS, FedX, the LTLs or JBH, Schneider?  I am sure those are handled with priority.

The domestic intermodal market is fascinating and worth of an article, or perhaps even an entire special issue.  The coordination with the trucking companies, drayage truckers, 3PL, and others is quite a story to be told.  Further, the movement of LTL off the highway and onto the rails is no doubt a complex story to be told. The number of YRC and ABF 28 ft pups moving is quite large on NS.  There is definately a movement of UPS from trailers to containers, but still a large number of 28 ft and 53 ft trailers.

 

Ed

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Posted by oltmannd on Monday, July 09, 2018 5:50 PM

MP173

I watch the daily parade of NS intermodal on the Chesterton, In. web cam and it is always interesting to see the bare table movements (usually Monday or Tuesday) going into Chicago.  Then you will see the intermodals which will carry a large number of BTs in the consist.  

With all of this west to east movements of both domestics and international containers/trailers, where do these end up?  It seems as if there are far more moving eastbound than returning west.

The discussion on the West Springfield intermodal operations by bratkinson was quite interesting.  How are intermodal loads "booked"?  Typically, how much notice does the railroad have of the incoming loads?  How are the last minute or rush trailers/containers handled, particularly those of UPS, FedX, the LTLs or JBH, Schneider?  I am sure those are handled with priority.

The domestic intermodal market is fascinating and worth of an article, or perhaps even an entire special issue.  The coordination with the trucking companies, drayage truckers, 3PL, and others is quite a story to be told.  Further, the movement of LTL off the highway and onto the rails is no doubt a complex story to be told. The number of YRC and ABF 28 ft pups moving is quite large on NS.  There is definately a movement of UPS from trailers to containers, but still a large number of 28 ft and 53 ft trailers.

 

Ed

 

Once upon a time, a shipper could "crash the gate" and come in for loading without billing.  The RR would just put it on the "right" train and hope to get billing later.  Kinda like mailing a letter and telling mailman, "take it west.  I'll get you the address tomorrow."

No more, though.  You have to have billing to get in the gate.  Is there a maximum lead time?  I don't think so.  I suppose a shipper could EDI the bill while the driver was wheeling the load to the terminal.

The good thing is that the RRs are using load planning tools and predictive analytics to figure out how to set tracks and how to load the train, so it's not horrible to have an unknown hit the gate right at cuttoff.

One interesting thing I noticed was the weekly cycle caused cars to pile up over the weekend in NJ and then the terminal would just "eat" off the pile until supply would scrape bottom on Saturday morning.  The swing was huge, but there wasn't enough time to run the empties out anywhere and get them back in time to reload, although they did try to squeeze the locomotives by towing power west every Monday.

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by greyhounds on Monday, July 09, 2018 6:03 PM

Unless things have changed, a empty intermodal car move is a cost without offsetting revenue to the railroad.

We paid per diem and mileage to TTX.  And it did not matter if the car was loaded or not.  So that was a prime marketing focus.  If we were moving empty cars, or trailers, to a terminal we worked to find loads for them.  You could discount the rate because you were putting revenue to a cost that would be incurred anyway.  That was the most profitable freight you could find.  

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by steve m on Monday, July 09, 2018 6:47 PM

I am not obsessed with the cam. It is on when I am reading. I doubt I cover 10 pct of the daylight hours. Just passed was a BNSF empty move west.

Clearly there is a notable flood of goods inbound!

Rochelle is clearly the pulse of commerce in the Northern Tier of the US!

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Posted by bratkinson on Monday, July 09, 2018 9:44 PM

MP173

With all of this west to east movements of both domestics and international containers/trailers, where do these end up?  It seems as if there are far more moving eastbound than returning west.

The discussion on the West Springfield intermodal operations by bratkinson was quite interesting.  How are intermodal loads "booked"?  Typically, how much notice does the railroad have of the incoming loads?  How are the last minute or rush trailers/containers handled, particularly those of UPS, FedX, the LTLs or JBH, Schneider?  I am sure those are handled with priority.

The domestic intermodal market is fascinating and worth of an article, or perhaps even an entire special issue.  The coordination with the trucking companies, drayage truckers, 3PL, and others is quite a story to be told.  Further, the movement of LTL off the highway and onto the rails is no doubt a complex story to be told. The number of YRC and ABF 28 ft pups moving is quite large on NS.  There is definately a movement of UPS from trailers to containers, but still a large number of 28 ft and 53 ft trailers.

 Ed

Unlike unit trains that always have the same shipper starting point and customer (consignee) end point, intermodal equipment, like box cars, are pretty much 'free to roam' wherever the next load takes them. 

To start off, there are certain container owning companies like UMAX (UMXU containers) that are partnerships between class 1 railroads, and 99% of the time, those containers will only travel between shippers and consignees on those railroads. 

But private container owning companies are the 'masters' of where each box goes and when.  Schnieder, for example, may have a load from Los Angeles to West Springfield, but when empty, Schnieder has already scheduled that container to be loaded somewhere nearby (maybe even the first consignee!) and it may go to Louisville, KY, for example.  To my knowledge, there's nothing in their railroad agreements that says all containers must come back to the ramp they were picked up at.  NOR is there a requirement that regardless of where the container is headed next, it must go on CSX.  Sometimes, those very same containers will be taken over the road to their next consignee.  Schnieders' computers automatically figure out what is the most economical way to move the container and still make the planned delivery time & date to the consignee.  It could be that CSX routing would add an extra day or two to transit time.  They may decide that although there's a 'big contract' with CSX to move most of the Schnieders, it's always possible that they could take the reloaded container to a nearby NS ramp instead!  UPS routinely does exactly that.  It depends on what method/route is least cost.

However, containers going out the gate on pool chassis (TSXZ, for example.  All chassis end with letter Z, just as containers end with a U) and NOT going back to the ramp it came out of just made that ramp minus 1 on the 'total chassis available/in use' at that ramp.  Consider what a 'net loss' of 10 chassis per day this way does to mess up chassis availability for incoming loads.  Although I have no direct knowledge about it, I believe that the pool chassis owners/lessors charge more than <whatever> per day 'rent' if the chassis doesn't come back and possibly starts creating a significant excess of empty chassis at other ramps.  It makes sense, then, that Schnieder decided to create their own fleet of chassis, to be used exclusively under their containers.  That not only avoids the added fees for chassis rental, but also ensures the quality/condition of the chassis under their containers.  The for-profit, on-ramp, contract repair shop uses whatever parts they can get for lowest cost.  So, whether it's recap tires on not-so-great casings, or not-quite exact-size replacement lights (and fall out on the road), pool chassis may not have a trouble-free trip on the highway to/from the consignee.  As Schnieder switched to their own chassis shortly after I retired, I wouldn't be surprised if they either have their own shop or the contract with the on-site place specifies specific replacement parts, etc.  Also, as their chassis are all new as of 3-4 years ago, they're more trouble free than chassis 10+ years old.

But having a privately owned fleet of chassis at the ramp requires not only having a sufficient number of bare chassis on hand for incoming loads, but they also pay some fee to CSX Intermodal to 'store' their chassis there.  It makes sense, too, that they may pay some small amount to CSXI if their empty containers are stacked on the ground to free up chassis for inbound loads...this is speculation, of course. 

Another 'curve ball' happened in 2013 or 2014 when TRAC chassis rental company (TSXZs) changed their rental rate to CSX to charge the same daily rate whether loaded or bare.  That became a motivator to keep the chassis 'moving', or, at least, use chassis that have been bare the longest first when unloading a train.  We'd get emails from Jacksonville indicating specific chassis numbers that haven't been used in some number of days.  We also got similar reports for CSXU and UMXU containers that hadn't moved for a number of days, too.  So the goal is to have 'exactly' the right number of chassis on hand and the right number of empty containers to minimize the number of days they sit idle.  We also would get emails regarding inbound loads that haven't gone out the gate within 48 hours or so.  Unless the box is on the way or at the consignee, it's taking up valuable real estate in our yard that should be making money!  CSX has/had a 'rule' that any inbound load not out the gate in 3 days (I think), would be charged daily storage fees of $75.  After 10 days, it went up significantly...maybe $300/day?  

So why are there so many bare tables/buckets headed west?  Presumably, the trailers or containers that rode on them eastbound are going back west on the highway.

It boggles my mind to think about how TRAC or Schnieder keeps track of their large inventories of chassis and making sure they're in the right place at the right time spread out at maybe 500 different ramps.  Only once during my 7 years at CSXI did I witness our sending out bare chassis on an outbound train.  Since the packers can't lift a bare chassis, we simply used already on hand empty containers on wheels to get the chassis onto a hitch and then unlocked the container from the chassis, picked it up and stacked them on the ground near by.  On the other side of the coin, maybe once per year we'd get perhaps 25-30 bare chassis stacked 4-5 high,  trucked (driven) in from another ramp...usually one in New Jersey.  And, of course, they would send us 'the bottom of the barrel' in terms their condition.  No surprise there, though.  And, of course, at the time, we didn't have a 'chassis stacking' machine.  So if I had a spare moment between checking incoming empties and loads at the gate, I'd watch how they unstacked them.  I think OSHA would have a fit if they ever saw how it was done with a couple sets of chains attached to one of the packers to gently lift one up and put it on the ground.  Everybody got as far away as possible as each one was being lifted.  They ultimately got a chassis stacking machine about a year before I left.

How do we 'know' or find out what's about to come in the gate?  It had to be 'booked' in the computer, first, but that's only for loads and paid private owner repos (empties being repositioned).  Perhaps 98% of the time, when the load or repo arrived at the gate, it was already booked/billed in 'our' intermodal computer via the CSX web site, I presume.  Shippers would supply container/trailer ID, where it was going from & to, and a bill of lading, though usually nothing more than generic terms like 'dry freight' or whatever.  Hazmats were a completely different animal.  The billing on our computer had to exactly match that of the paper copies the driver had.  They had to give us a copy that we'd make 2 copies of, one for the conductor on the outbound train and one for our files, that was also faxed to Jacksonville.  Although the CSX policy was to inspect (I think it was) 10% of all incoming hazmats, we'd only get perhaps 4-5 per week, so we were instructed to break the seal, open the doors and verify proper blocking and bracing to prevent the stuff moving around and possibly leaking, exploding, or whatever.  I remember one new shipper that I got to inspect their first hazmat going out...and flunked it.  The driver had to take it back where he got it, tell them to block and brace it, and brought it back on 2nd shift, where it was again refused.  And, of course, it turned out to be an owner-operator, meaning he gets paid zero for the trip back and return, and he eats the cost of the fuel to do so.  After hearing about it the next morning, I dug up the instruction manual and found the blocking and bracing instructions and made several copies to hand out to unfortunate drivers that we refused. 

There were always loads or private-owner repos coming in the gate that weren't billed...or, at least, not in 'our' CSXI computer yet.  So we'd send the drivers to the 'penalty box' as I called it to contact their company to ensure the billing did get entered and was on its way in our computer.  As near as I could tell, the CSXI Intermodal computer would 'query' the CSX shipping computer about once every 10 minutes asking 'got anything for us?', and, of course, there would be the billing we were waiting for.  We'd check our computer every few minutes to see if the billing was in, and if so, we'd enter the data and walk the resultant ingate ticket out to the driver and tell him where to park his load.  Other times, the driver would be impatient and come in and ask us to check on the billing.  We had a handful of frequent, very regular, 'trusted' drivers (mostly owner operators) that when they came in without billing, we'd 'bend the rules' a little bit and allow them to park it so they could take out their next load sooner.  Of course, when the got back to the gate with their new load 10-15 minutes later, if the billing didn't come through, we wouldn't let him out the gate with his next load.  I only had to do that once, and it was maybe 5 minutes more before we got the billing in our computer and I could input the data and create his ingate ticket. 

Since leaving in January 2015, CSX implented a cell phone app that the driver would do the ingate activity before coming in our gate.   Driving through newly installed (2016?) gate camera system, combined with the new improved intermodal ramp software package, the driver need only stop to key in container/trailer ID info from his tractor and then park the load where directed on the screen.  The downside of that system is that we never get the chance to physically inspect the container/chassis/trailer for defects.  So, for example, a chassis with a flat tire wouldn't get 'discovered' until the driver that takes out the next load on that chassis finds it, and gets delayed waiting for the shop to fix it.  Previously, we'd enter the defect codes in  the system and put a red Bad Order sticker on the front of the chassis indicating the problem which was a signal to the yard jockey that spots the load next to the car it will be loaded into to take the chassis directly to the shop after the container was put on the train.

Then there was Schnieder.  They'd fax us each morning with a count of how many of their containers we should expect that day and what train each would be going out on.  I don't recall their giving any container ID, though...just a count.

We'd bend over backwards for UPS.  Although we had UPS loads coming in from 7-8 different UPS ramps within a 75 mile radius, our 'main' contact was the Hartford UPS ramp.  About 9 PM each night, they'd make 'reservationss' by faxing us a list of expected loads (or repos) by trailer/container ID for each of our outbound trains and their destinations.  Usually, at the same time, they'd enter the information into the CSX computer so when they arrived at the gate as 'late' as 30 minutes before train 'release' time (compared to 2 hours (I think) for all other shippers), we had the rest of the train loaded except for those specific loads.  Usually, each of them would show up well ahead of the train release time, and with the packer manned and ready at the next open hitch, we'd often do a 'hot lift' right off their back, they'd move away, and the load get put on the train.  However, it happened maybe 2-3 times per week, the UPS cutoff comes and goes and we have 1-2 of their trailers haven't arrived yet.  We'd call Hartford, who'd call the 'offending' ramp and find out what's going on, then call us back with the info.  Usually, at least for the Waterbury CT and a couple of other Connecticut UPS ramps, if a trailer wasn't filled up enough, they'd send it to the UPS hub in New Jersey and they'd top it off and get it out on a train from there.  If it wasn't coming, I'd radio the yard jockeys to find a load or repo we didn't have room to load or else an empty <whatever> to fill out the 'missing' UPS spots.  I've also received calls directly from one of the UPS ramps telling me their driver had a flat but is on the way and should be there in xx minutes, so I'd delay the final release if needed to wait for the late trailer.  Wintertime also added to UPS trailer delays, and after contacting the ramp, we'd know they were still on the way.  For Q019 in the morning, we'd get 3-4 UPS loads from Providence RI as they couldn't make it to the CSX ramp at Worcester MA before -their- cutoff.  More than once I delayed releasing the train more than 30 minutes before scheduled release time to wait for the UPS to arrive.  In most cases, I'd get a call from Jacksonville asking what's going on, and/or get a chewing out from my boss when they arrived.  Telling them we waited because it's UPS and I knew for certain they were on the way usually shut them both up.  Besides, the official release time for Q019 was a ridiculous 90 minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive from Worcester!  I made several tries at getting that changed but my arguements fell on deaf ears.

The holiday peak season played havoc with us getting UPS loads.  There'd be the usual lists faxed to us, but then there'd be several 'surprises' at the gate...sometimes after UPS cutoff time.  My 'rule' was if UPS brings it, we'll send it!  So, I'd radio the yard jockeys & packer operator alerting them to the problem so they could take an already loaded empty (or repo, if necessary) to provide the spot for the surprise UPS.  Sometimes, I'd get a call from their 'sending ramp' to expect the trailer.  Other times, they'd just show up out of the blue.  And, of course, without billing.  Knowing UPS was 'good for it', I'd make sure it got loaded on the train and I'd create 'phony' computer info showing it arrived at the gate with billing to Chicago, etc.  A quick phone call to Hartford UPS would get it correctly billed and it would 'catch up' to the train usually within an hour of departure.  Only once did one of these get to Chicago without 'real' billing.  They called and I told them what happened.  I never heard anything else about it. 

During peak, one of the UPS drivers told me that if it had wheels, they'd use it.  They'd also rent whatever they could find, whether trailers or containers, and use those, too.  My 'favorite' was the almost-new all white with absolutely no markings on it other than a very small trailer number along the top rail on the front of the trailer.  And, of course, that was NOT the number that UPS would use.  Until 2014 or so, they'd use a magic marker to write the trailer ID on the side...or the front...or both sides.  One night, after all the UPS had been loaded, I was out verifying the train and found an all white trailer with a small number at the bottom front that was not on my list.  Fortunately, UPS drivers would sometimes take 5 minutes or so 'break' and park together and talk for a few minutes.  That night, I went full speed ahead in the company truck to the UPS drivers and asked where did they park the 'mystery'/missing trailer.  The reply was it was the all white box and the number was written in magic marker.   I went racing back into the yard and sure enough, there was the 'missing' trailer magic marker and all, loaded on the train, ready to go.

There were also a couple of times when the outbound trains from Springfield weren't running.  I think one of those times was hurricane Irene had wiped out the tracks alongside the Mohawk River in NY (former NYC mainline) and detouring wouldn't make their scheduled arrival in Chicago.  So, after advising Jacksonville of the problem so they could arrange for drivers to take the loads to Chicago, I'd relay the info to our yard jockeys and had them bring all the UPS loads 'up front' for easy pickings by the over the road drivers that had never been to our ramp before.  Most of the time, it was owner-operators working for some trucking company I never heard of that came and took them to Chicago.   They'd usually arrive within an hour and take them away.  One morning, there was still one lonely UPS trailer waiting to go when a CSX Trucking owner operator showed up to take it.  I was a bit surprised, but he took it all the way to Chicago.  When I saw him again a couple days later, he said he beat all the other company drivers to Chicago by an hour or more!  

Maybe 3-4 times per year, we'd be on the 'receiving' end of UPS trailers being trucked to Springfield.  What happened each time was that the connecting railroad from the west (BNSF or UP) arrived late in Chicago, so they had to contract with some company there to drive the UPS to our ramp.  It was always interesting to see some of the 'real junk' for trucks coming in with a shiny UPS trailer.

"And so it goes..." (Linda Ellerbe in her NBC days)

 

  • Member since
    January, 2017
  • 31 posts
Posted by CMQ_9017 on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 5:22 PM

Glad to hear the 'war stories' from the Springfield ramp, I never toured that one but managed a piece of business out of there for a while... one that you referenced. For chassis management at the pumpkin there was a custom built Oracle based system that used 'events' reporting in conjunction with driver assignments and the TT210 tracking devices on the end of the containers. The TT210s are all but gone replaced with with a new unit, much smaller and different service vendor, but my counterparts at CSX used to find the big white boxes on the end of the container (which would mostly be covering part of the Schneider logo) would fall off.... and they would collect them in their trucks. That of course put off the tracking to show a bunch of containers just hanging around the ramp.... good times. Also customers liked to take containers, often the brand new ones, and move them to other off site locations and use them as storage units... that was good to have the live tracking as you could send a driving to within 20ft of the box and then charge the customer a bunch of demmurage for their 'misuse' of company equipment.

A few times we diverted traffic from one ramp to the next, but given the train routings that wasn't common. I had been working on 'regional capacity' models where we could shift drivers from one ramp to the next if a bubble of freight was coming. During the port strikes on the West coast, we were losing 100 loads a day (cross docked from 40'FCL to 53'FCL) and then once it was resolved, they started unloading the ships that were just hanging around which created a huge surge. We had to hire 'partner' carriers to come in and handle the freight, creating a real headache for CSXT with all these novice intermodal guys around (they have strict rules at the ramp but for good reason). I'm sure you've seen some of the questionable behaviors on ramps but some drivers... too bad because a few rotten eggs spoil the whole bunch (had a lot of excellent drivers who would move the freight and take the garbage assignments no one wanted)

  • Member since
    February, 2013
  • 34 posts
Posted by bratkinson on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 9:41 PM

CMQ_9017

Glad to hear the 'war stories' from the Springfield ramp, I never toured that one but managed a piece of business out of there for a while... one that you referenced. For chassis management at the pumpkin there was a custom built Oracle based system that used 'events' reporting in conjunction with driver assignments and the TT210 tracking devices on the end of the containers. The TT210s are all but gone replaced with with a new unit, much smaller and different service vendor, but my counterparts at CSX used to find the big white boxes on the end of the container (which would mostly be covering part of the Schneider logo) would fall off.... and they would collect them in their trucks. That of course put off the tracking to show a bunch of containers just hanging around the ramp.... good times. Also customers liked to take containers, often the brand new ones, and move them to other off site locations and use them as storage units... that was good to have the live tracking as you could send a driving to within 20ft of the box and then charge the customer a bunch of demmurage for their 'misuse' of company equipment.

A few times we diverted traffic from one ramp to the next, but given the train routings that wasn't common. I had been working on 'regional capacity' models where we could shift drivers from one ramp to the next if a bubble of freight was coming. During the port strikes on the West coast, we were losing 100 loads a day (cross docked from 40'FCL to 53'FCL) and then once it was resolved, they started unloading the ships that were just hanging around which created a huge surge. We had to hire 'partner' carriers to come in and handle the freight, creating a real headache for CSXT with all these novice intermodal guys around (they have strict rules at the ramp but for good reason). I'm sure you've seen some of the questionable behaviors on ramps but some drivers... too bad because a few rotten eggs spoil the whole bunch (had a lot of excellent drivers who would move the freight and take the garbage assignments no one wanted)

I recall when Schnieder started coming to Sprinfield shortly before Worcester got upgraded and a bunch of their traffic was going to start coming to Springfield to make their two year upgrade more easily done.  Of course, when WE were upgraded the prior year, there was no change in business levels and at times had only 50% or so of trackage available, switches at one end or the other removed and relocated several days later, and of course, major areas of the lot either blocked off completely or we had to navigate around open trenches as they installed a storm drain system to a holding pool near the gate (which had been our 'overflow' parking when needed) and they installed underground conduit for all new ramp lighting.  At least we got all new asphalt and we no longer had to work in a continous dust cloud because of our dirt yard and yard jockeys and truckers always on the move.  We often had inbound or outbound portions of our trains 'off site' a couple of tracks over in the RR side of the yard and had to all but beg the yardmaster to have the switcher bring them over, move them out, whatever, just to keep things moving...but I digress...

I think it wasn't too much after Schneider starting coming to Springfield that I spotted the white boxes on the front of the newest containers.  Seeing the solar panel, I figured it was some kind of GPS reporting system.  Maybe 6 months later, our manager told us that Schneider had called the Worcester ramp and reported that such-and-such container, loaded and in the Worcester ramp had the doors opened.  Built in burglar alarm, no less.  A couple years later, we got a phone call from one of the refrigerated trailer companies telling us that their unit #<whatever> in our yard just reported a loss of about 50 gallons of diesel fuel.  Our manager 'rewound' the camera system and yep!  There was a bob tail owner operator stopped directly in front of that trailer for 10 minutes or so.  He was obviously aware of the camera system and managed to avoid a full side view of his truck as he bob tailed in and out so we could not positively identify him.  But as there were only 3 'regular' O-Os with green trucks, we had a good idea who it was.  One of my co-workers told me our manager talked to him about his suspicions.  About a year later, the IRS siezed his truck!  Obviously, stealing fuel wasn't his only problem.

One of my interesting 'Schneider tales' was when they hired a husband and wife that had been driving for the post office previously.  ANY woman trucker at our gate was very rare.  Maybe one every 6 months!  Most of them looked like they could carry a fully stocked refrigerator without a problem.  But that Schneider driver was 'built right' and was drop-dead-gorgeous!  I was working the extra board at the time and she 'made everybodys' day' when she'd come in during the day shift.  Every one of us wanted to make a pass at her.  One day, it happened that she was taking a load out and her husband was bringing one in.  I had just finished giving him is ingate ticket and he pulled up and stopped alongside her.  They got out and embraced each other for a few seconds and then got back in their trucks.  When she came to the window to outgate her load, I admonished her for 'necking' in the yard, distracting everybody there and delaying the lines at the gate!  I did the same with her hubby, too.  We all got a good laugh out of it.  Perhaps 6 months later, a couple of retirements occured and I was suddenly #2 seniority and took 3rd shift by choice.  I never saw either of them again... Several months later, I asked my day shift relief were they still coming to Springfield and the answer was they 'moved on'.   

Your remark: 'Customers taking containers and using them for storage' rang a LOT of bells in my head. 

On Sunday morning, I was on the way open up the yard for the day at 6AM and happened to follow a CSXU container part of the way on US 5 through West Springfield, but the driver didn't exit to come to the ramp.  I made note of the 'fly by night' trucking company on the side of the tractor.  As it turned out, that container did NOT come back to the yard the 8 hours I was there...nor did the driver.  Perhaps that company was using OUR container to do their own local drayage business?  It never dawned on me that might happen until I saw it that day. 

For us, we knew that during November and December, Walmart would use some of our containers for temporary storage, but they'd come back after a week or so.  Another major shipper in town would order 60-80 empty containers all at once 2-3 times per year (delivered over 2 weeks, give or take), fill them up with inventory to be shipped, but delay shipping until after their business quarter/half ended as the stuff in the containers was already 'sold' and no longer in their inventory.  Then we'd get buried with outbound loads and didn't have enough train to send them all out on for a couple of days.

One of the interesting things about inspecting trailers, containers and chassis at ingate, is you get to know the drivers as well as what are the most common problems seen (lights and tires, mostly,  and occassionally an empty container with hazmat stickers still attached (almost exclusively a certain company with bright colored containers and new drivers picking up empties at the nearby Home Depot warehouse - they weren't told they had to remove the stickers before bringing back the empty!).  We always checked tires...tires....tires...tires.  There were a number of problems we'd look for.  Flats/blow outs, obviously.  Sidewall 'checking' (cracks due to age), skid flats (locked brakes), loss of recap tread, nails, screws, glass sticking in them, even orange highway cones wedged in.  And a rarity, perfectly peeled off recap tread all the way around but still fully aired up.  Flats, blowouts, skid flats and punctures (if it lost air when the driver or shop pulled out the nail, etc) would be charged to the trucking company that brought it in then deduct that amount (and then some, by one shady O-O contractor company) from the O-Os weekly check.  Everything else was the responsibility of the chassis owner for the repair bill.  

As I mentioned above, perfectly peeled recaps but still holding air was a rarity.  I'd see maybe 1 every 3-4 months, and that was checking 100 or more incoming units per day.  Then, I noticed I was suddenly getting 4-5 per WEEK, always from the same questionable trucking firm that I saw that Sunday morning maybe 2 years earlier!  I mentioned it to the manager and he said he'd look into it.  About a week later, peeled recaps became a rarity again.  A bit more than a year later, here comes the 4-5 weekly peeled recaps again!  The giveaway to me was it was always an outside rear tire...easier to replace than an inner.  I mentioned it again to my manager and he said he'd look into it.  Perhaps a year later, it was announced to us that that trucking company was permanently banned from all CSX intermodal ramps and the local police got a warrant and raided their nearby company terminal/offices.  They discovered that everything not welded to the chassis were being swapped out with similar bad items from their private trailer fleet!  A couple of their drivers had come forward and told the police (and CSX police, too) that everything from brake shoes to wheels, bearings, lights (chassis owner pays to replace those, too), air line connectors, and, of course, almost new recap tires were being replaced with their defective stuff!  They generally held on to containers they took out for a week or two before bringing them back empty, it was discovered.  Obviously, they were using them as 'their own' trailers to do regional drayage for a couple days before returning them.  It was so bad, our manager personally called the Norfolk Southern/Pan Am ramp at Ayer MA and advised their manager of what was going on with that trucking company.  It made the news that day that the company and its owner were under arrest, etc, etc.

Unscroupulous slime bags that they are, they created a new trucking company, got all the insurance, drivers on the national authorized intermodal list (the computer wouldn't allow them in the yard if not on the national list), and whatever else is needed to do business with CSX Intermodal, and were back in business in less than a month...same drivers and same un-repainted trucks.  I was working 3rd shift by then and it was my relief the next morning that said that our manager contacted Jacksonville and got the new company banned before the 3rd load went out the gate!  I still see the same old, tired trucks on the road every now and then, hauling their own trailers.  This is the same unscroupulous company that hires brand new CDL drivers (one unfolded his brand new RMV printed paper license to give me the number) and when they ask for a raise 6, 10, whatever months later, they get fired on the spot as there's a pile of applications of those looking to work.  The contractor yard jockey company at Springfield hired a couple of their former drivers and I saw a couple of them driving for new companies, too...all at better pay than they were earning previously.

A couple of months later, one of the CSX Police officers and I were chatting one night and I brought up the subject of the banned trucking company.  The officer said that's just the tip of the iceberg compared to what some trucking companies are doing at various 'big city' intermodal ramps.  Unbelieveable.

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 9,560 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 11:31 AM

The mention of hazmat placards on transportation when there is no hazmat aboard reminded me of an incident when I was receiving  chemicals. 

On one occasion, a load that was not hazmat came in--and the shipper had failed to mark "hazmat" out on the bill of lading, and the load was delayed at the POE so an instpector could go throguh the load. The driver, from his account of the incident was a smart aleck who had  not read the bill carefully and noted the error, and showed the inspector no respect. 

Johnny

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