Union Pacific Railroad is planning a complete overhaul of traditional intermodal terminal operations to cut truck waiting time and inspections sharply and speed gate check-in and equipment handling.
UP is launching the effort at a new California terminal being built in Lathrop, 50 miles east of Oakland, and a planned facility at West Memphis, Ark., to serve the key Memphis intermodal gateway.The changes could cut equipment inspections by 95 percent, slash truck waiting time in half and reduce inspection staff by 50 percent. UP officials say that can mean effective increases in terminal capacity, faster service and reduced costs.
Boosting capacity and utilization has been an increasing intermodal industry concern since last fall's equipment shortage. The system could save a driver making five trips daily one hour and 40 minutes of waiting time, which could allow an extra trip.
Mike Chapman, senior assistant vice president of intermodal and automotive operations, said UP's effort pulls together several existing technological tools that are available but not applied together at a single terminal. The approach includes:
* A magnetic card reader, based on coded driver's license information and located outside terminal gates, to identify drivers as they approach the facility.
* Automatic equipment identification tags to track the trailers and containers.
* Electronic links to move that equipment tag information to truckers, customers and others in the intermodal chain.
* A new gate-inspection system that randomly inspects trailers and containers as they enter the terminal, much like inspections at U.S. border crossings.
* A load planning and parking system meant to optimize freight flows through the facility.
The $20 million Lathrop facility is to open in August, while the 600-acre West Memphis terminal has a scheduled 1995 opening.
"The year 2000 is here today for the intermodal business," said Mike Zachary, senior vice president of Vickerman Zachary Miller of Oakland, a consultant working with UP. "We just haven't been able to put the technological advances into one terminal. Until now, the roadblock has been that the system hasn't been integrated."
UP plans to use an electronic reader to capture information from the California driver's license, which has a magnetic strip. The move will replace a paper transaction while neutralizing communications problems UP encounters
because drivers entering facilities have as many as 14 different first languages and may not be proficient in English.
Inspecting just 5 percent of trailers and containers entering the terminal would replace traditional walk-around inspections for all but a handful of boxes at other terminals.
The move would apply proven random-sampling techniques to replace a paperwork-driven procedure in which equipment condition is noted and truckers are billed for damage.
Industry insiders say damage disputes are costly to bill and resolve. Many participants question whether the cost outweighs the benefits, since railroads typically collect a fraction of the damage billed while alienating motor carriers that are supposed to be partners.
Mr. Zachary argued that the prospect of being inspected would deter individuals who might be tempted to slip a damaged box through. Gate cameras will spot potential problems and trigger inspections.
Bob Dean, director of intermodal marketing for Amtech, a company that markets electronic technology, said the automatic equipment identification tag system will be tied into UP's computer system that links terminals with the carrier's customer service center.
"AEI is great," he said, "but quite frankly, it has to be implemented with the proper management information systems to back it up."
Amtech is negotiating with several motor carriers and trucking associations, which Mr. Dean would not identify, to tag equipment.
Reducing waiting time will cut vehicle emissions, Mr. Dean said. The state of California is cracking down on emissions while vehicles are waiting in terminal lines.
Once the truck and box are inside the terminal, the load planning and parking management system, known as Oasis, kicks in.
The computer system generates a load plan and communicates that information via radio to drivers that move equipment between trackside and parking spaces.
Parking management programs divide the terminal into sections, typically 50 spaces, meant to save time for drivers looking to park or pick up a unit.
The Lathrop terminal will have 800 parking spaces, two overhead cranes and up to 10 gate lanes. Two switching tracks and three main tracks will handle 40 and 52 double-stack cars, respectively.
Plans call for loading and unloading boxes from trains in 90 seconds.
UP's Stockton, Calif., facility will close when the Lathrop terminal, located about three miles from Interstate 5, opens.
A simulation of operations for the West Memphis terminal found truck waiting time that peaked at 25 to 30 minutes with a standard staff of two check-in clerks and two inspectors could be cut to 5 to 10 minutes with one clerk and one inspector with random inspection and the tag system.