The backlog of shipping containers delayed at terminals, inland yards, and rail ramps across the United States has grown immensely over the past six months and deteriorating chassis availability in almost every major city in America has been a primary issue preventing the delivery of importing or exporting goods. While some believe that chassis issues can be solved by simply purchasing additional equipment, others point to a greater systemic issue.
WHAT IS A CHASSIS?
Container chassis, also known as an intermodal chassis, is a customized trailer that may be used to move a shipping container over the road. A chassis is a wheeled metal frame on which a shipping container is attached. Truckers utilize chassis to transport containers between ports, rail yards, container depots, and delivery locations. Drayage is a term used to describe this sort of trucking.
One suggestion to help solve the problem would require railroads to move away from wheeled inland terminals and toward grounded operations instead. Currently, containers from an inbound train are unloaded directly from the railcars onto street chassis in a wheeled terminal and then conveyed to a parking area for pickup by a drayage carrier.
Although there are some advantages to this method, the disadvantages must also be considered, especially when chassis availability is of major concern. An adequate supply of chassis equipment is required for the efficient functioning of the terminal, otherwise, trains cannot be unloaded and turned back toward their origin. This negative impact on train operations has caused ripples of chassis supply delays upstream.
The standard approach for rail operations outside of the U.S. is to ground and stack containers in the terminal and allow truck drivers to control their chassis. This method eliminates any conflicts associated with locating a chassis or verifying its condition, however, in the U.S. it would require an investment to modify terminals so that containers could be mounted directly onto each trucker’s chassis efficiently.
Other proposed solutions believe the elimination of “box rules,” guidelines that state that when shipping lines control the truck move from ports to distribution warehouses and rail yards, carriers can specify the chassis that must be used, would open more capacity and eliminate unnecessary restraints.
Major changes may be necessary to solve this ongoing crisis and, if possible, to prevent it in the future.