Historically, most cross-border transportation between the U.S. and Mexico has been handled by full truckload carriers. Over the past few years, however, intermodal has come to take on a greater role. Railroads have invested a significant amount of money in infrastructure. The Union Pacific, for example, has spent more than $350m on improvements to its tracks near El Paso, Tex., and Mexico’s Ferromex has made similar investments in Monterrey. The Kansas City Southern has also undertaken improvements at major service points, according to Enriquez.
Shippers are responding with renewed interest in the intermodal option, which is proving to be a viable substitute for truckload at many locations. Intermodal also boasts the advantage of providing a greener form of transportation, with a far lower carbon footprint per ton of freight moved than truck.
At the same time, says Enriquez, truckload capacity is on the decline. New hours of service (HOS) rules in the U.S. have cut trucking productivity by 3 to 5 percent. “You need 100,000 more drivers to cover the same truckload capacity before the HOS change,” he says. The driver shortage is being felt across the board, among truckload carriers large and small.
The cost factor of intermodal is also key to that mode’s competitiveness, says Beers. Trains don’t experience the same delays in crossing the border that can plague trucks. New intermodal facilities provide a high level of security, which makes for more reliable transportation.
Through a service partner, Transplace has full visibility to its customer base at any point of the intermodal move. Truckers, too, employ satellite communications to provide for constant monitoring of freight in transit.
The goal is to be able to manage freight from door to door, with tight control over cost and service quality. “It’s always healthy to have a mixed portfolio of shipping methods,” says Enriquez.
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