We normally keep our focus upon freight rail excluding intermodal traffic in this blog. However, the condition of the Nation’s intermodal system does connect importantly not just to distribution and sale of finished goods, but also to imported parts and materials. So, to the extent the import/intermodal system is stressed, there can also be an impact upon domestic production, and in turn, some industries that also use raw materials and finished goods manufactured or obtained domestically. Anyone reading the news has seen the reports of ships stacked up off the California and New York ports.

A couple of months ago the Surface Transportation Board asked the Class I railroads to provide a wide range of information regarding international intermodal freight, summarized in Freightwaves as follows:

  • “The number of “free days” allowed for container storage before demurrage fees begin to accrue.
  • The daily fee schedule after any free days expire.
  • Any increase or decrease in such demurrage fees and free time since January.
  • Any “fee caps” that are currently in place and how long those caps are expected to remain in place.
  • Whether receivers are being permitted to provide their own chassis to retrieve their containers.
  • A description of efforts made, if any, to reduce storage charges when a delay is not within the control of the shipper or receiver.
  • The average daily volume of stored containers, broken out by month from July 2020 to the most recent month for which data is available.

The board also wants to know the railroads’ policies and practices of assessing storage charges, as well as what relief is available.”

We haven’t yet seen the final result of this review, although it is understood the railroads, or at least most of them, have already provided a response to the STB. We look forward to seeing what if any final regulatory answer the STB may feel is necessary or helpful to help meet the stress in the system at this time, but are fearful the response may in fact not be very helpful.