Rising synthetic-resin exports and road weight limits are pushing shippers and motor carriers in Houston to use more lightweight marine chassis that would enable them to haul fully loaded containers.
TRAC Intermodal this month became the latest company to introduce lightweight chassis in Houston. The equipment provider ordered 25 of the units for use in the area. Most will be placed on long-term leases to customers, with the rest used in TRAC’s private pool in Houston.
“Based on market response, we’re looking to add a couple hundred more lightweight units in Houston to support customer demand,” a TRAC spokesperson said. The lightweight chassis have a tare weight of 5,050 pounds, compared with 6,500 for a standard gooseneck chassis.
No statistics are available, but numerous motor carriers and transportation intermediaries serving Port Houston have turned to lightweight chassis in order to deal with the twin challenges of road weight limits and increased shipments of resins.
Because resins are heavier than most other containerized cargo, shippers say current road weight limits allow them to load a 40-foot container to only 90 percent of capacity. This reduces efficiency and raises per-ton costs. Lightweight chassis also are used by shippers of lumber and other heavy freight.
Business groups are urging the Texas legislature this year to authorize heavy-haul corridors that would allow gross truck weights higher than the maximum 84,000 pounds that currently can be hauled with permits.
Supporters of the change note that other states, such as Louisiana, allow up to 100,000 pounds. They say use of an additional axle could avoid increased damage to roads, and that user fees could be dedicated to road improvements and maintenance.
The change is opposed by towns and cities near Port Houston and by railroads, which say heavy-haul corridors would provide unfair competition to their hopper-car shipment of resins. The International Longshoremen’s Association cites safety issues and is concerned that heavier trucks will mean fewer containers to handle.
Legislation for a statewide increase in road weight limits to 97,000 pounds failed after being introduced late in the last legislative session in 2015. Advocates of higher weights say they’ve mustered more support since then and that they’re optimistic about success this year.
Low-cost natural gas feedstocks have set off a boom in US production of synthetic resins that is expected to increase annual export volumes by up to 500,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units within five years. Most of the new production is along the Gulf Coast, with the largest concentration in the Houston area.
TRAC said its investment in lightweight chassis is part of the company’s effort to provide specialized equipment to supplement its regular chassis.
“We believe there is a significant market for specialty equipment around the country, tied to various industry needs and time-of-year demands,” says Keith Lovetro, TRAC’s president and CEO. “We will continue to explore opportunities to develop and introduce high-quality, reliable equipment that is calibrated to the specific needs of our customers.”