Preparations for the holiday freight surge already are under way at Schneider National, Green Bay, Wisc. The nation's largest truckload and intermodal carrier says shippers, too, should be nailing down transportation arrangements to move the holiday rush of imports that will hit West Coast ports. "Our advice is to forecast well and plan early," says Jim Van Hefty, vice president of intermodal commercial operations. "Shippers already should be talking to their providers. If they wait until September, they risk paying exorbitant premiums."
Schneider takes a pro-active approach. "We already are sitting down with our customers to find out what they are forecasting in terms of volumes and flows and lanes," Van Hefty says. "This is the most critical part of our preparation."
The next step will be to begin, in late July or August, to reposition boxes on the West Coast. "We will move as much of our own equipment as we can and we also will be working with the railroads to identify boxes that they own and can let us use on a short-term basis," Van Hefty says. Schneider also will work closely with the railroads to ensure that the necessary railcar and lift capacity is available and will tap its third-party partners to add road equipment and drivers.
Given these preparations, Van Hefty anticipates a smooth peak season, similar in volume to 2006. "What we saw last year and what we expect to see this year is consistent with a 10-year industry average," he says. Peak season volumes in 2005 and 2004 were "way above average," he notes.
Van Hefty says the railroads "did a very nice job last year" handling intermodal shipments during the surge and he feels confident of a replay of that performance this year. Similarly, he sees no serious port congestion issues. "Barring a natural disaster, I don't believe there will be any major problems," he says.
The fall surge is shorter than it used to be, he notes. It lasts about three to five weeks, from the middle of October and through the end of November, "with a little ramp-up and ramp-down on either side," he says.
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