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Rail News: Intermodal

Imports up, backlog continues in wake of West Coast ports' labor strife


Import cargo at major U.S. ports is expected to increase 8 percent this month over the same time last year, as West Coast ports continue to recover from a cargo backlog built up before a tentative labor agreement was signed in February, the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates announced yesterday.

"Progress is being made but there's still a lot of cargo waiting to be loaded onto trucks and trains and moved across the country even after it's unloaded from the ships," said NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold in a press release. "The situation is getting better but we’re still far from normal."

The Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union tentatively agreed on a five-year contract in February. While ILWU leadership has recommended that members vote for ratification, votes won’t be counted until May 22.

The lack of a contract and operational issues led to crisis-level congestion at the ports after the previous agreement expired last July, and issues were not resolved until a federal mediator and U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez got involved in the talks.

According to NRF and Hackett's Global Port Tracker report, ports handled 1.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in February, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available, and historically the year's slowest month. That was down 10.3 percent from January, and down 3.6 percent from February 2014.

The first half of 2015 is forecast at 8.6 million TEUs, up 3 percent over the same period a year ago.

"The disruption on the West Coast appears to be over and great measures are being taken to clear the backlog of ships sitting offshore," said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett. "Of course, all those ships being discharged are causing landside issues as workers try to get containers out of the terminal gates and onto trucks and rail."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/9/2015