As the transportation industry grows more competitive and service sensitive, all players involved in intermodalism - steamship lines, rail carriers, intermodal companies and port and terminal operators - are searching for ways to improve the speed and efficiency of intermodal moves.
One practice that has been re-evaluated and is currently undergoing an industry-wide restructuring is the traditional means of insuring chassis availability and coordinating chassis maintenance and repair.Historically, each steamship line has assumed the responsibility of providing the chassis - the wheeled frames holding shipping containers - for the inland movement of its cargo. In theory, this system should ensure that well-maintained, road-worthy chassis will be available when they are needed. In reality, the result is that intermodal terminals play host to hundreds of idle chassis owned by the various steamship lines the terminal serves.
A look at the traditional means of chassis deployment reveals a system that is unwieldy and inefficient. Stockpiling chassis reserved for the use of a specific line requires the terminal to set aside valuable space for parking or stacking and to maintain a sophisticated yard control system to trace the location and owner of each unit. Separate repair and maintenance arrangements must be made for each steamship line. Because the ownership of containers on
trains varies, the current system requires a massive repositioning of bare chassis before and after each train is worked.
The complicated chassis management process is expensive as well. Limiting the chassis' use to a specific line limits the number of containers the equipment handles per year. Consequently, the steamship lines invest a disproportionate percentage of revenue in under-utilized equipment.
The current system requires that the steamship line position the chassis at a rail terminal in anticipation of new or increased business or run the risk of having an inadequate supply of chassis for pick up and delivery. Conversely, when business declines, the steamship company incurs the expense of moving the chassis from a terminal where it is no longer needed.
A neutral or common chassis pool eliminates these unnecessary costs and inefficiencies. By streamlining the pickup and delivery process, chassis pools benefit rail carriers, terminal operators, drayage companies and steamship lines. The ultimate beneficiary of a chassis pool's lower costs, increased efficiency and ease of doing business is the shipper.
A common chassis pool makes available the exact number of bare chassis needed to load and unload trains and pick up and deliver containers, no matter whose containers they are. The repositioning cost is eliminated since the chassis are interchangeable. Chassis pools speed train turnaround time while permitting the normal economies of double stack service and simplify the systems needed to monitor chassis inventory at the yard. The pool system simplifies chassis repair and maintenance as well, insuring the road- worthiness of the equipment provided.
The recently implemented space sharing arrangements among ocean shipping companies have fueled the movement toward sharing equipment at ports and inland points. The underlying ideas are parallel: Increased efficiency and better utilization of existing equipment improve the health and competitiveness of an entire industry and can benefit individual companies without the massive investments and potential risks required in traditional inter-industry competition.
The economic benefits that chassis pools offer are obvious. With the pool system in use, shipping companies no longer bear the costs associated with chassis repositioning or the costs and headaches that go along with positioning chassis in advance. Common chassis pools increase a carrier's service flexibility while decreasing the level of investment required to support the service.
Throughout the intermodal industry, interest in neutral chassis pools is growing. We have moved beyond the stage of identifying the problems in the current chassis management procedure toward the implementation of a solution.
At customer request, the value-added service has begun to be offered at certain ports and terminals across the country. In the areas where chassis pools are located, they have been largely successful, demonstrating that steamship lines do not necessarily have a preference for their own equipment when a less expensive, more efficient and simpler alternative is available. Carriers, who historically have left the equipment maintenance business to leasing companies and contractors, are showing increased interest in the undeniable cost and service advantage chassis pools provide.
The most effective solutions to intermodalism's traditional problems often require innovative concepts that go beyond traditional territorial attitudes and practices. The economies and efficiencies chassis pools provide help the intermodal industry as a whole become more truck-competitive. Neutral chassis pools make it possible for intermodal carriers to gain business - not from each other - but from over the roads.