In 1989, history was made when J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. (J.B. Hunt) entered into an exclusive partnership with what is now BNSF Railway Co. To start, the company fielded just a few hundred containers. Today, the Lowell, AR-based transportation logistics services provider operates the largest fleet of company-owned 53-ft. containers and one of the largest drayage fleets in the world.
Regardless of the size of its intermodal operation, though, the basics are the same. To maximize carrying capacity, J.B. Hunt fields lightweight day cab tractors, high-cube containers, and lightweight chassis. The fleet’s suppliers are asked to provide the most interior space possible in the lightest container on the market. In addition, to enable the company to maximize cargo-carrying capacity, chassis also have to be the lightest possible.
Intermodal equipment at J.B. Hunt doesn’t have special maintenance requirements, but it does undergo extensive inspections due to the securement devices used on the chassis and rail cars. A major difference between intermodal equipment and a traditional over-the-road trailer is the securement of the container to the chassis. This is reflected in steps drivers must follow during pretrip inspections to make sure the container is properly secured. Additionally, the fleet always maintains its equipment to meet the requirements of any federal rules, and to maintain the lowest possible operating expense. Intermodal drivers also generally spend more time in high-density traffic compared to those in J.B. Hunt’s traditional truckload operation. Still, while dispatching and asset management of intermodal equipment is the same for a container as it is for a trailer, there is the added need to manage the chassis.
J.B. Hunt offers domestic intermodal service, including hauling truckload freight in containers and trailers, on select routes of Class I railroads. Its nationwide network of rail partners is anchored by BNSF in the West and by Norfolk Southern in the East. Combined with its own assets and resources, the company employs proprietary rail and intermodal technology to support network planning, equipment management and service execution.
J.B. Hunt’s commitment to progressive technology is evident in the systems that support its intermodal services, including integrated railroad electronic information systems for real-time load status updating, electronic data interchange between rail partners and larger dray carriers, and onboard communications systems. Web-based customer portals are in use for booking and tracing intermodal orders and as an interface allowing dray carriers to process real-time data.
When J.B. Hunt was first honored as a SmartWay Champion in 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, several factors were cited as contributing to its selection. Among them was the commitment to innovative logistics solutions, including multimodal options, to help achieve sustainability goals.
“Our valued partnerships with rail carriers have allowed us to convert countless shipments from road to rail,” says Terrence Matthews, president of Intermodal at J.B. Hunt, “thus reducing carbon emissions, lowering diesel consumption and making highways safer.”
Using an integrated, multimodal approach, J.B. Hunt creates capacity-oriented solutions in intermodal, dedicated, final mile, truckload, less than truckload, refrigerated, and flatbed. It provides comprehensive transportation services to customers throughout the continental U.S., Canada and Mexico.
From a few hundred to almost 60,000 containers, J.B. Hunt has experienced steady growth in its intermodal operation over the past 24 years. “That kind of expansion only happens when focused on providing the best service possible,” Matthews states. “Our enterprise model allows us to fully integrate the increasingly complex and multiple transportation requirements of our customers into a seamless process and offers the best overall logistics solutions. Intermodal is an important and integral part of that approach.”