STB Chairman Expresses Concern Over Container Supply Chain Issues

The global container-based supply chain serving U.S. exporters and importers is continuing to experience unprecedented challenges, congestion, delays and cost increases at virtually every step in the system: overseas and North American ports, railroads, shipping lines, inland rail terminals, trucking and warehousing, noted Specialty Soya & Grains Alliance (SSGA) in a recent transportation update.

Surface Transportation Board (STB) Chairman Martin J. Oberman, on July 22, sent a letter to all Class I railroads expressing his concern over persistent problems with congestion in the international intermodal supply chain and significant container storage fees that some shippers are being required to pay in order to receive their containers.

Shortly before the start of the pandemic there was a slowdown in the container industry, and still today the biggest losers continue to be the shippers. There were major reductions in container shipping in February 2020 due to quarantines of port operations and manufacturing in China was halted.

“That was followed by a rash of canceled blank sailings in March and April as severe cutbacks in import demand emerged, as the economic impact on global business operations due to the virus came to fruition,” said Bruce Abbe, strategic adviser for trade and transportation. (A blank sailing refers to a sailing skipping one specific port while still traversing the rest of the scheduled route or the entire sailing being canceled.)