High fuel prices plus damaged roads and rail lines are forcing truck fleets to make a variety of operational changes to help keep freight moving.
The S.S. Badger-- a car ferry on Lake Michigan that can transport 620 passengers and 180 vehicles during its four-hour cross-lake transit route – has seen a 20% increase in commercial truck traffic compared to last year at this time. Several carriers – including bulk hauler Quality Carriers (QC) in Midland, MI – are using a trailer transfer program started by the ferry company. QC is using it to ship liquid latex, used to make paper products, from Dow Chemical in Midland, MI to numerous locations in Wisconsin “We were looking for a more economical way to do business since we were feeling the pinch of higher fuel prices and that’s when we decided to use the Badger,” said Tom Quoss, QC’s terminal manager. “It saves our company money in maintenance and fuel costs since it provides such a significant shortcut.”
Trucking carriers based in the region hit by Katrina, however, face an altogether harder road to recovery. Kansas City, MO-based SCS Transportation said operations at its Duluth, GA-based LTL subsidiary Saia continue to be affected in selected markets due to Hurricane Katrina. While facilities are standing and dry, the firm’s New Orleans and Gulfport, MS, terminals are temporarily closed due to the limited access to roads, no power and no communications systems.
About 250 of Saia’s 6,600 employees work at terminals directly affected by the storm and an additional 280 work at the company’s administrative office in Houma, LA. The company said it’s established a fund for employees to make donations to benefit co-workers and their families who have been directly impacted by the storm, with Saia providing a 100% match to all employee donations.
“We continues to service and meet customer needs throughout our system and shipments within the Gulf Coast areas impacted are being delivered to all points that are not embargoed by the government,” said Rick O’Dell, Saia’s president & CEO.
“Adjustments have been made to reroute business around the affected geographies and to cope with fuel shortages, telecommunications outages and road closures,” O’Dell noted. “We expect some adverse short-term financial impact, but our main concern is taking care of our people and providing immediate transportation services to the affected areas as this is critical to the recovery effort.”
Railroads are also coping with service disruptions. Norfolk, VA-based railroad Norfolk Southern (NS) said it continues to reroute freight that formerly would travel through New Orleans. However, it reports operations are normal with the exception of those in New Orleans itself and on the railroad’s bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. Repairs continue on the bridge, which, when reopened, NS said should be a key artery for transporting rebuilding supplies and equipment.
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