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Rail News: Intermodal

Imports settle down after surge to clear West Coast backlog, NRF says


Import cargo volume at U.S. major retail container ports is returning to normal levels as officials gear up to count votes on ratification of a new West Coast labor contract that ended months of uncertainty, according to a report released late last week by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.

The Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union tentatively agreed on a five-year contract in February. While labor leadership has recommended that members vote for ratification, votes won't be counted until May 22. The lack of a contract has resulted in "crisis-level congestion" at West Coast ports, NRF officials said.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled a record high 1.73 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEU)s in March. Driven by a surge of backlogged cargo waiting to be discharged following the labor dispute, the number was up 44.9 percent compared with February and 33.1 percent from March 2014, NRF officials said in a press release.

April was estimated at 1.55 million TEUs, an 8.1 percent increase compared with April 2014. The first half of 2015 is forecast at 8.8 million TEUs, up 6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

The volume increases are coming as ship owners launch an "excessive number" of large vessels that could lead to a "price war" on shipping rates, said Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett.

"There is not enough demand to justify this level of capacity increase," he  said. "Expect rates on both coastal services to fall to all-time lows.”

Global Port Tracker covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast, as well as New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savanna, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast. It also covers Houston on the Gulf Coast.