Tag Archives: Logistics

Biden climate blueprint promotes modal shift away from trucks

Building on the idea that maritime and rail generate less carbon than trucks, the blueprint for decarbonization suggests shifting transport to those means.

That’s easier said than done. The EU has been working hard for some years on a modal shift to river and rail transport for cargo inside Europe. They have actually had some success— a few percent improvement.

But the geography of the EU is a lot more conducive to waterborne transport of cargoes. There there are quite a few navigable rivers going inland from the coast where the ports are. Many EU ports have set up ‘inland ports’, large distribution areas inland that often can be reached by barge, to offload container cargoes and get them ready for distribution. This foresighted policy offers many advantages, both from an ESG standpoint, and for reducing congestion at the ocean ports. But the US has only one large river, the Mississippi, navigable for a long distance into the heartland, in a land mass much larger. Smaller rivers on the East Coast don’t go as far.

However, particularly on the Mississippi, there is a lot of potential for more barge traffic. I also suspect that maritime transport could be used along the coasts for some kinds of moves, particularly movements of products like refinery outputs, that might travel by truck otherwise.

So there is rail. The EU has a problem with rail; most rail is state-owned, and is oriented around passenger travel, not freight. And rail lines in Europe are not all compatible; not only are their practices disparate, but the physical equipment isn’t even compatible at some borders. That adds transfer delays as well as simple handling delays to transport. The EU will have a much harder and more costly time increasing rail cargo percentages.

In the US, we have seven Class I rail firms, all private, that crisscross the country and offer cargo service. Rail can provide the backbone of distribution from ports to the hinterland. But will it? Rail firms are all private, not public; they are currently focused on their most profitable segments, and have engaged in rampant cost-cutting. Sometimes, it’s referred to as PSR (precision scheduled railroading), but quite often it is more closely allied with old-fashioned cuts driven by short-term accounting. The recent reductions in staffing are claimed to result from PSR, but in fact, simply serve to reduce operating costs and improve operating ratios. They may result in reduced safety, as some of the claims in front of the STB put forward. And the popular step of running really long trains to save labor costs reduces flexibility and adjustability of rail traffic to support less predictable loads. These moves by private firms greatly increase the complexity of carrying out the proposed modal shift in the US.

But certainly a modal shift will reduce carbon output. And there is actually a lot that a government push could accomplish. Some of these things are:

  • Infrastructure improvements for inland maritime operations;
  • Streamlining projects for on-dock rail at ports large and small;
  • Inducing rail lines to improve their rail yards and lines to support a more flexible cargo mix and customer set;
  • Driving rail common carrier rules that will induce or force rail lines to accommodate cargoes from a broader set of customers, even though the traffic will not be as profitable as long steady coal or grain trains.
  • Keeping pressure on the rail lines to serve a broad base of customers, particularly intermodal (container on flat car or trailer on flat car). A move to transport this type of cargo long distances to inland container terminals would help with emissions and get trucks off the major interstates.
  • Supporting inland terminals and distribution points that are rail connected.

There are probably more, and Pete Buttigieg and the President’s commission on supply chain probably are thinking of them.

The biggest problem is how to get private industry and investors on board to finance and support the projects.

US National Blueprint for Decarbonization

John Gallagher·Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Biden climate blueprint promotes modal shift away from trucks – FreightWaves

China cancels crew change quarantine against Covid

It’s long been a problem for seafarers. Due to Covid restrictions on entering and leaving a country, they could not go home after their shift on the vessel nominally ended. They had to stay with the ship because of the covid restrictions.

In China, that’s ending now. The new rules allow seafarers to leave the ship and fly home. There won’t be a requirement for quarantine.

This is good news for seafarers.

Let’s hope continued progress can be made in working conditions for crews.

Katherine Si | Jan 09, 2023

China cancels crew change quarantine against Covid

FMCSA proposes tougher rules for truck broker financial backing

A few dishonest truck cargo brokers are making it necessary for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to tighten rules for all brokers.

In the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, passed just before the end of 2022, Congress directed the agency to make new rules making clear the distinction between legal truck brokers, bona fide agents, and dispatch services.

Truck brokers have to post a $75,000 bond with a surety company or trust fund, which is used to guarantee claims against the brokerage such as for accidents or mishandling of loads. Dispatch services have not needed to post this bond in the past; they claim they merely connect the shipper with a load to carry with a trucker; the contract for carriage is between shipper and carrier. Many dispatch services do not handle the funds, though somehow they get paid for their services; perhaps the trucker pays a subscription. Occasionally the dispatch service handles the payments; are they then functioning as a broker?

FMCSA recently released the draft of the new guidelines, which they have been working on. They focus on posting the bond and making sure it is paid up. I’m not sure this will address what Congress requested, but certainly the question of whether the bond is posted will go a long way toward making sure claims for accidents or losses or mistaken freight bills can be adjusted.

The guidelines don’t clarify whether a dispatch service is a broker or not. I’m not sure the FMCSA wants to open up that discussion. It’s not hard to register as a broker, but you do have to come up with the bond; that’s the biggest hurdle. The dispatch service does not want liability for financial damages associated with the load.

FMCSA believes about 1.3% of all registered brokers each year, based on 2022 data, are subject to drawdowns of the $75,000 bond they post to legally operate. The bond is supposed to be surety against incorrect charges to their customers. When customers fight the charges, the bond is ‘drawn down’, or pledged to repay the customers. It must be replenished by the broker when the claim is paid.

Of these brokers, about 17% receive total claims over $75,000 in 2022. Unless the bond is replenished, these brokers are violating the law, and also causing their customers a lot of extra work fighting for fair charges.

The bond is held by the surety agency or the trust fund provider. Both are legal entities to hold the bond for the broker. If the bond isn’t replenished, an ‘interpleader’ lawsuit is filed by the surety or trust company, and these legal proceedings against the broker take time and money. The new rules should reduce the number of these filings.

According to John Gallagher, the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA), a group representing brokers, believes that the problem often lies with fraudulent surety and trust entities. These companies can run out of funds to pay the claims against the trusts or bonds they hold, meaning that the carriers are unprotected. In other words, the brokers’ representative claims it’s not the brokers’ fault. The FMCSA rules have not focused on surety or trust fund viability in the past.

While both sides may have half a point, fraudulent brokering is not good for drivers or for the industry, though brokers have a vital role to play, especially helping owner-operators and small firms capture and service loads.

And the dispatching services? They want to stay out of the broker loop, preferring to operate in an unregulated fashion. They do provide ‘liquidity’ for truckers, allowing empty backhauls to be filled and reducing operating costs for independent truckers and small carriers. That’s a tremendous advantage for truckers and for the environment; preventing those empty miles is a major concern. It’s not clear whether the dispatchers should be folded under the broker category by the FMCSA.

John Gallagher·Wednesday, January 04, 2023

FMCSA proposes tougher rules for truck broker financial backing – FreightWaves

John Gallagher·Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Congress directs action on broker-related regulations – FreightWaves