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CN Intermodal Terminal Plagued by Setbacks

BRAMPTON, Ont. - All appeared to have returned to normal at the CN Brampton Intermodal Terminal, a month after pickets and reports of violence and vandalism, due to the protest against unpaid and exce...


CONTAINERS MOVING: Drivers are now back to work and off the picket lines. Photo by Katy de Vries
CONTAINERS MOVING: Drivers are now back to work and off the picket lines. Photo by Katy de Vries

BRAMPTON, Ont. – All appeared to have returned to normal at the CN Brampton Intermodal Terminal, a month after pickets and reports of violence and vandalism, due to the protest against unpaid and excessive wait times for drivers, shut operations down.

But then a couple of cranes started to malfunction in early October, the electronic reservation system went on the fritz, and wait times increased to two to three hours per pick-up.

“On Tuesday (Oct. 7) we had a glitch with the computer for the gate reservation system, and that is why there were some delays earlier this week,” explained CN spokesman Mark Hallman.

“Two cranes were malfunctioning and were out of commission for quite some time…” read a news bulletin issued by the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (also in early October).

The problems had carriers worrying wait times will soon be on the rise again.

“I didn’t have too many hopes in CN and the whole thing from the beginning,” said Rolf Volfson, owner of Carmel Transport International, one of the carriers servicing BIT.

“For the last few days, my drivers have been waiting two to three hours there.”

George Kuhn, executive director of CIFFA was more optimistic:

“CN has acknowledged that there have been some bumps and when you have bumps, rumours (that CN is withdrawing the manpower it added to reduce wait times) start quickly. But the number of people and the amount of equipment is working and staying.”

Meanwhile, drivers can at least say they’re being paid something for the time they do spend waiting. Volfson said his company has been paying drivers $30 per hour for every hour they wait over one hour.

As for the backlog of 2,500 containers in the yard, reported by CN in early September, it was reduced to 1,891 as of early October, thanks to the extra pay for drivers as well as improvements on CN’s part, such as the increased manpower and equipment (loading cranes) used at the yard.

Other improvements included in CN’s Sept. 10 attempt to resolve BIT problems were: an on-site management contact for drivers, a commitment to an average 15-minute waiting period to get into the terminal and a 45-minute turnaround once drivers get in, and a hotline number for drivers to call if they have to wait more than one hour once in the yard.

The reservation system for drivers, created by CN in response to similar drivers’ protest in 2002 is still in place.

But some alterations have been made.

According to drivers there’s no more “slush” line (for drivers who haven’t made a reservation to pick up a load), and lines are substantially shorter because more manpower and cranes are available.

Some carriers are still frustrated with the reservations system, however, simply because they cannot schedule as many appointments as they’d like.

And fears the backlog of containers and wait times will soon rise again are never far from the surface.

CIFFA is still urging its members to encourage customers to keep their warehouses open for reception on weekends.

“Evident is the pure fact that volumes are increasing in the international environment, and to date this environment has not addressed the need for container extraction and delivery during weekends,” read a CIFFA news bulletin to members, issued Oct. 2.

“This problem has already been addressed on the domestic business, and many companies are already receiving cargo on weekends, it is now time to identify what importers are able to receive 24/ 7 or at least during weekends.”

But whether CIFFA customers are answering the call to stay open weekends to receive freight is still in question.

“Big importers and exporters, like Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart are already working 24/7, according to CN,” said Kuhn.

“But the medium and smaller sized companies have more difficulty doing this – if you only have two warehouse people, the weekend is the only break they get.”

Also in question is whether drivers are willing to work weekends as well.

“They can work overtime on weekends, if they want to,” said Volfson.


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