After six years of operating a weekly coastal service between Southern California and the Pacific Northwest, Matson Navigation Inc. has discontinued its all-water shuttle and replaced it with a twice-weekly intermodal rail service. Matson Intermodal System Inc. last week teamed up with the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. to offer the Pacific Coast Express between Los Angeles and Seattle. The BNSF supplies the trains and crew. Matson Intermodal books the freight and manages the twice-weekly service.
This development leaves CSX Lines as the only carrier offering an all-water coastal shuttle linking the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. CSX last month introduced its coastal shuttle as part of an expanded service between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. The vessel rotation is Long Beach, Honolulu, Tacoma, Long Beach.Matson's coastal shuttle, which it introduced in 1994, hit a plateau and leveled off. 'The margins were small. There was no way of growing the business,' said Matson spokesman Jeff Hull.
Matson last month was forced to transfer the vessel it was using in the coastal shuttle to its mainline West Coast to Hawaii service when a ship in that service went into dry-dock for repairs. Matson immediately replaced the shuttle with a weekly intermodal rail service on the BNSF, but at the time indicated the coastal shuttle would resume when the carrier returned to a full complement of ships.
On Nov. 5, Matson decided not to resume the coastal shuttle, but rather to expand the partnership with the BNSF to a twice-weekly intermodal rail service in what is known locally as the I-5 (Interstate 5) Corridor.
CSX has already noticed an increase in interest among shippers in its all-water coastal shuttle. 'We've had triple the number of requests about the intercoastal service. Word has gotten out,' said Dan Downes, director of marketing for CSX's Hawaii-Guam service.
Coastal shuttle services by water and rail appeal primarily to two types of shippers. The services are popular with domestic shippers, such as those moving lumber products, Christmas trees and apples between the Pacific Northwest and Southern California.
Also, ocean carriers in some trades, such as between the U.S. West Coast and Australia-New Zealand or South America, and the U.S. West Coast to Europe, use the shuttles. In order to reduce transit times, the shipping lines turn their vessels in Los Angeles-Long Beach and serve the Pacific Northwest via the coastal shuttle or intermodal rail.
Also, with truck rates increasing due to higher fuel costs, some shippers are looking to the coastal shuttle as a way to reduce transportation costs in the I-5 corridor, Downes said.
Matson anticipates that many of the shippers that were using its coastal shuttle will migrate to the fixed-day, twice-weekly rail service, Hull said. Since Matson understands the requirements of both the ocean carriers and commercial shippers in the trade, the company will handle all of the logistics involved in the Pacific Coast Express service.
'We pick up the load and take it where it is going. Matson handles the logistics,' said Rusty Looney, a BNSF spokesman.
The coastal water and intermodal rail services each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Rail provides faster transit times, while ocean transportation rates are lower. Downes said there are also weight issues involved in Pacific Northwest cargoes such as lumber products and apples.
Those cargoes sometimes result in container loads that are legal for over-the-road hauls in the Pacific Northwest, but are too heavy for transit on California roads. Matson is aware of the issue and is reviewing its connecting carrier agreements, Hull said. Overweight containers can usually be hauled on California roads by using tri-axle chassis or by utilizing specially designated overweight corridors.