GOOD INTENTIONS: CN officials say they're doing their best to deal with recurring container backlogs.
BRAMPTON, Ont. – July saw CN officials raise storage fees on import containers yet again at the Brampton Intermodal Terminal (BIT), in an attempt to prevent backlogs.
The rate per day for containers stored in excess of two to three days (two days for containers deramped between 4 a.m. Monday and 4 p.m. Friday and three for those deramped between 4 p.m. Friday and 3:59 p.m. Monday) was raised to $200.
The announcement came following news that CN’s BIT terminal was suffering from the same old container backlog problem, especially on Mondays, or after long weekends.
Industry insiders reported waits of up to two hours just to get in to the terminal and four hours to get out.
“I have to take photos for my customers so they understand the situation,” said one insider. “They just won’t believe me otherwise. “
As for truckers, rumours swirled that they were contemplating another strike at the terminal.
“A lot of carriers have dropped their rates again – they’re not paying drivers to wait,” said one freight forwarder.
Several carriers, who preferred not to be named, also confirmed the rumours.
“It’s true, the drivers aren’t happy when they have to wait for nothing, but we can’t afford to pay them and still compete,” said the owner of one trucking company.
CN officials, meanwhile, complained of drivers not turning up in time for their appointments, even though they admitted wait times were on the increase.
They blamed backlogs on the lack of weekend pickups.
“We’re increasing manpower and replacing our cranes when they break down, but there’s no indication of the actual storage capacity of our yard increasing,” said Ian Thomson, with CN public affairs. “Part of the problem is when the yard is full we have to lift two or thee containers just to get to the one the truck driver is there to pick up.”
Freight forwarders, meanwhile, said they’re seeing shippers switch to CP rail or even trucking companies to get their freight moving faster. But they pointed out CP is just as vulnerable to container backup, due to receivers not accepting freight on weekends
There does not appear to be any solution to the ongoing container backlog problems, freight forwarders complained.
“It appears that whatever efforts are made by all parties involved (yes, including CN), the backlog woes at BIT continue the moment there is a slight hiccup in the system,” said a news bulletin from the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA).
A memo received from a leading trucking firm indicated waiting time at BIT has increased dramatically, said the bulletin. The note also mentioned that top lift downtime was such that five out of six top lifters were non-operational and as a result CN was unable to properly serve carriers.
“This was confirmed by a message received from CN stating that ‘CN’s operating system has been unexpectedly out of service since approximately 15:15 on Wed. Aug. 4,'” reported the bulletin. “‘This limits CN’s ability to process trucks at the terminal and as a result the entry queue is currently very long. Our IT Department is working on the issue.'”
CIFFA plans to again speak to CN about making allowances for “unfair” storage charge assessments, said the news bulletin. CIFFA said customers are currently being “‘penalized” even when delays are caused by CN’s inability to deliver service as promised.
“On the other hand, we know that CN is making every possible effort to be responsive to community needs. Let us give credit where credit is due. The creation of a pro-active service department has been received with much accolade from the community. It has made communication more efficient and allowed for pro-active problem solving and anticipatory decision making for pick-ups and deliveries,” CIFFA’s newsletter stated. “There are no short-term solutions to the volume woes we are experiencing. But there are mid- to long-term solutions that need to be tackled in a private/public sector initiative that require the government(s) pro-active participation. Now that we have a new transport minister, let’s hope and trust that Mr. Lapierre is listening!”