Ports Operating Well Despite Rail Congestion

Monday, November 07, 2005
The nation’s major retail container ports are operating smoothly this month despite railroad congestion that is causing some delays in hauling cargo away from western ports, according to the November Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation and Global Insight. All West Coast ports covered by the report – Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle – were given a “medium” congestion rating this month to reflect railroad delays. Medium indicates a warning of potential for congestion rather than existing congestion. The ports themselves were operating smoothly, but railroad congestion was causing delays of up to four days for inbound and outbound rail traffic. All East Coast ports covered by the report – New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah – were ranked “low.” In the October Port Tracker, both East and West Coast ports were all ranked “low.” Aside from railroad issues, record inbound volumes were handled at West Coast ports this fall, but the volume has been increasing more slowly than during the same period in 2004. The LA/Long Beach PierPass system has continued to divert 30-35 percent of peak shift work to evenings and Saturdays. East Coast ports have also seen record volumes, with only slightly slower growth than 2004. Short-haul trucking continues to operate adequately on both coasts despite continued dissatisfaction with long “turn” times at some ports. Labor availability should continue to be adequate on both coasts. Nationwide, ports surveyed handled 1.39 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) of container traffic during September, the most recent month for which data is available. The figure is up 14.5 percent from the same month in 2004 and 0.56 percent from this August. Over the report’s six-month forecast period, traffic is expected to peak at 1.44 million TEU in October, up 8.9 percent from a year ago, before settling to 1.21 million TEU in February 2006, up 4.3 percent from February 2005. Numbers will then begin to climb upward, with March forecast at 1.24 million TEU, up 11.2 percent from the year before. One TEU is a 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.

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