Authorities at the Port of New York and New Jersey said Wednesday that the import cargo backups at the port rail terminals stemming from inclement weather in the Midwest could continue for two more weeks as truckers grapple with the fallout.
“There is still a backlog of import rail boxes, but the situation is improving,’” said Steve Coleman, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “Back to normal in one to two weeks assuming no more complications.”
The port began seeing a build-up of cargo December at its rail terminals – known as ExpressRail – after bad weather triggered delays in the Midwest. The port authority said the problem began with snow and ice in Chicago and the Midwest, disrupting train schedules in the region and curbing the movement of empty rail cars to New York-New Jersey.
As a result, there was a shortage of railcars at the port, and departing trains had too few cars on them to remove all the containers, creating a buildup, authorities said. The problem peaked last week, with Maher Terminals and APM Terminals, which share a rail line in Elizabeth, affected the worst, the authority said.
Rob Movshin, regional manager at Northeast Container Port Group at the New York-New Jersey port, said he has been getting calls from shippers looking to move cargo by truck, rather than face the potential delay of moving it by rail.
“I am getting phone calls for more road freight, and I can’t take advantage of it,” he said. “And the reason I am getting the phone calls is that my understanding is its taking 10 days to get from New Jersey to Buffalo New York on the rail, when it’s a day and a half trip.”
Movshin said he can’t take the work, because he doesn’t have the extra drivers or the trucks, in part due to the truck driver shortage and also due to the implementation of the electronic logging device mandate (ELD) in December, which effectively reduced the hours the that some drivers can drive.
Norfolk Southern, which services the port, was not available for comment.
CSX Transportation, which also serves the port, said last week that winter storms had not affected its services into the Port of New York and New Jersey but it had been working with the port to “ensure they have the necessary equipment and assistance to restore their daily operations.”
CSX spokeswoman Katie Chimelewski said Wednesday that the railroad has “continued in that supporting role.”
Tom Adamski, agent for First Coast Logistics, a Kearny-based trucking company, said progress at the port in improving the situation since then had been slow. Adamski said last week that the ExpressRail terminal in Elizabeth appeared “overwhelmed” and that the 30 minutes needed to pick up a box at the terminal had more than doubled.
“It’s getting a little bit better,” he said, of the cargo backup. “But it’s taking in my opinion far longer than it should.”
Adamski said he believed that the problem had been worsened by the shortage of truck drivers, which had prompted shippers to send more cargo by rail, rather than by truck, putting more stress on the rail terminals. The number of train lifts in the port has increased by 22 percent since 2013, rising to 518,959 lifts in 2017. That was a 4.2 percent increase on the year before.
Movshin, of Northeast Container Port Group, said that although his own trucks were not affected at the Port of New York and New Jersey, he had heard that cargo was getting out of the rail terminals slowly. “I know that stuff is sitting at the rail waiting for cars, backing up at the dock,” he said.
Movshin said his Buffalo operation was severely stressed, however, first when only a little cargo came from New York–New Jersey and then, later, when there was a sudden rush.
“They got inundated, up in Buffalo, because instead of having a consistent flow, they got slammed,” he said. “Once they freed up (rail) cars (in New York-New Jersey) they loaded them all and the train was bigger than expected,” creating a sudden surge in demand for trucks to remove them from the terminal, he said.