In an effort to dispel the myth that piggyback intermodalism is damage-prone, a railroad company representative declared the reality is that the industry is 99 percent damage-free.
His comments, which were supported by various facts and figures, were challenged by a representative of a large shipper who said: Numbers don't always tell the tale.James A. Kelly, manager of quality control and freight claim services for Santa Fe Railway Co., addressed an audience of about 100 people attending a seminar entitled Intermodal Freight Damage - Dispelling the Myth, at the International Intermodal Expo '88 in Atlanta recently.
We're dealing with an enormous perceptual problem here, a myth that is alive and well, he said. One that I would like to see put to rest.
Here we are at 99.5 percent (damage-free) and we're still flunking the course. Mr. Kelly estimated the total dollar figure for 1987 freight claims (trailer on flatcar/container on flatcar) to be $22,169,519. If we took the derailment/accident portion out of those claim dollars, we would get a more realistic picture of what day-to-day traffic looks like, he said. We'd reduce them by approximately 45 percent - down to around $12,193,235, or a ratio of 0.26. When viewed this way, the whole claim dollar thing seems to be insignificant.
Jerry Loomis, general transportation manager, for Champion International Corp., one of the world's leading producers of paper and forest products, disagreed with the railroad executive. Any amount of damage, he explained, makes shippers want to use other modes of transportation.
Champion ships 46,000 carloads of freight each year, 7 percent of that via intermodal.
Although there have been significant improvements in intermodal transportation in recent years, he said, there is still a negative perception of intermodal shipping. Why does the perception continue?
According to Mr. Loomis, the numbers are not entirely realistic.
There is more damage than the industry claims, he charged. Many customers do not file claims because it is not worth the effort, and the damages are written off.
What profoundly influences the shippers is how the intermodal parties respond to the damage. If intermodal players don't make an effort to help the shipper solve the damage problem, then shippers will use intermodal less frequently or not at all, explained the Champion manager.
Customers must be made to feel essential to the industry. This will do more to repair the perception of the industry than anything else.
Mr. Loomis also said his company has realized the importance of insulating its customers against freight damage problems. Champion will, during a six- month period, experiment with various load patterns and damage applications in conjunction with CSX and Burlington Northern. Testing will be done at the paper company's mill in Pensacola, Fla.
Effective March 1, Champion will assume complete responsibility for the damage of goods during shipping. This, explained Mr. Loomis, will result in happy customers, and their continued use of intermodal shipping.
In addition, Champion will try to find out where damages occur - at one of their mills or with a third party. This information will be logged on a computer and used for future reference.
Mr. Loomis suggested that intermodal players not insult customers by turning down claims. The handling of claims should be expedited, he said. They should be paid within 30 days and, if necessary, customer claims should be paid first and investigated later.