SHIPPERS ON INTERMODAL: CHANGES NEEDED FOR GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES - Global Trade Magazine
  October 13th, 2020 | Written by

SHIPPERS ON INTERMODAL: CHANGES NEEDED FOR GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES

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  • “The truck shortage has increased demand for intermodal transportation."
  • "With well-integrated intermodal transportation, overall shipping costs are greatly reduced.”
  • "Intermodal transportation has incredible potential to be a reliable and affordable component of logistics."

The intermodal transportation sector is experiencing an interesting shift as of lately. The combination of disruptions from the pandemic while others are caught playing catch up to adequately refill warehouses and distribution centers has posed new questions for a variety of sector leaders. For the intermodal sector, however, a new question is present in the minds of leaders and players in this arena: What is needed to leverage opportunities for growth post-pandemic and moving forward with the “new normal” we keep hearing about?

The answer to this question is not found within one single solution or technology offering. In fact, there is no single answer at all. The perfect mix of artificial intelligence, increasing capacity and creating more visibility and agility within operations will ultimately be the key to reviving and maintenance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all parts of the supply chain, from operations and compliance to technology integration, and although many players have successfully restarted operations, it is important to consider the ways transportation has been forever impacted to better prepare for future disruptions. But in what ways has the pandemic impacted the intermodal industry? Doug Punzel, president of Celtic Intermodal, explains exactly how the pandemic has impacted the sector and how methods are shifting to accommodate continued movement.

“As COVID-19 continues to impact the supply chain and logistics across industries, some areas have limited access to trucks,” explains Punzel. “The truck shortage has increased demand for intermodal transportation. In fact, beginning the third week in April, we have begun to see surges in volume–especially in California, Texas and Mexico. We are seeing shortages of box and train capacity in some areas, as shippers with expanding needs are caught up and filling warehouses. At the same time, many markets in the United States have plenty of box, drayage and train capacity.”

Utilizing a robust technology toolbox further supports the industry, although some sectors are slower to adapt than their partners. The key to remember here is not how much tech is being used, but what challenges are solved through their implementation and how they are customizable for specific customer needs.

“AI, machine learning and other software advancements allow real-time visibility of end-to-end supply chain operations to keep a pulse on the business,” Punzel says. “The ultimate goal is to reduce risks, capture more competitive freight pricing, and identify optimal routes for the greatest cost savings.

“With today’s volatile current events that threaten to disrupt the supply chain on a regular basis, flexibility is vital for business success. For many shippers, intermodal transportation has incredible potential to be a reliable and affordable component of logistics strategy. Technology innovations are supporting real-time visibility, mitigating risks, and optimizing transportation costs.”

Celtic Intermodal, a Transplace company, offers a unique solutions portfolio for customers seeking the perfect solutions, offering flexibility and visibility while keeping an eye on the unexpected. Celtic focuses on what the customer needs are throughout the process while identifying areas of improvement both operationally and financially. The company offers customers Strategic Capacity Solutions, Door-to-Door Intermodal, 53-foot Containers, 40-foot Containers, Cross-border Intermodal and International Drayage in addition to managing more than 20,000 40-foot container shipments each year. Celtic’s robust network of steamship lines and dray provider partners further support consistent capacity to meet the needs of their global customer network.

“We implement dynamic solutions to our customers’ transportation needs by providing exceptional customer services, capacity, reliability and expertise,” Punzel says. “With access to over 70,000 containers every day and strong relationships with major rail providers, including Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX, BNSF, CN, CP, and KCS/KCSM, our dedicated account team focuses on our customers–providing the best combination of rates and routes.

“Our cross-border intermodal services bypass border-crossing issues and congestion,” he continues. “We enhance the security of customers’ shipments while reducing overall transportation spend with our door-to-door intermodal services across Canada, Mexico and the U.S.”

The unique relationship Celtic has with its Class 1 Railways network offers customers competitive options in transportation that others cannot. Punzel points out two specific pros to working with Celtic that keep shipments moving and customers satisfied.

“We are strategically located near our customers and where rail ramps are located,” he says. “We can be more effective with short-haul moves within five to 800 miles because we are closer to rail ramps. And in case of derailment or tunnel outage or another type of outage, we leverage our relationships to remain in close communications with Class 1 Railways and be more collaborative to support our customers’ needs. We conduct network analysis to help customers identify modal conversions and scale up or down with volume. With well-integrated intermodal transportation, overall shipping costs are greatly reduced.”

Punzel goes on to explain that the simplicity of scheduling is a significant factor to promoting growth for the intermodal sector. It goes directly back to predictability and the constant need for progression within the industry. The relationships developed and utilized by Celtic provides added security for customers in case of the unpredictable. This is especially important in today’s “new normal,” where measures in safety and regulation seem to change without much notice. The supply chain does not have time to stop and companies such as Celtic present solutions for issues before they happen.

“Customers with over-the-road freight are open to conversion to intermodal only if the schedule is predictable,” Punzel explains. “Over the past three years, all railroads have improved service by maintaining reliable, scheduled, on-time performance, which is key to growth.”

So, what exactly needs to occur for progression and growth within the intermodal sector? In simple terms, the perfect mix consisting of the right technology that provides accurate and timely visibility, advanced predictions analytics, integrated communications, and removing inefficiencies that create unplanned costs. This perfect mix is not as hard to attain when customers are paired with the right partners for the job. As we learned with Celtic, strategic locations and competitive offerings make a significant difference in offering the best options and supporting the bottom line.

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Doug Punzel is the president of Celtic International, to which he brought more than three decades of transportation experience. He joined Celtic in 2014 and has been instrumental in the company’s growth. Throughout his tenure in the industry, he has served in a number of roles, including sales, customer service, operations and leadership. Prior to Celtic, he was a leader within the intermodal sales division at Schneider National.