What’s really behind US port congestion

My personal takeaway from the very interesting article below and other work by industry experts is that U.S. port and freight transportation strategy is fundamentally broken.  

We are over-investing in environmentally damaging port dredging and making other politically-driven and import-oriented infrastructure investments, instead of focusing on improving goods handling automation for imports and exports, and reducing or eliminating dangerous freight transportation emissions.  

Should we consider financing automation and emissions elimination at selected ports and the electrification of primary freight rail and national highway freight network links with long-term government bonds, to be repaid from savings on fuel and medical costs? 

The Steel Interstate Coalition has an interesting proposal along those lines, the Steel Interstate System

The document cited in the article below costs £1995, so isn’t readily available.  For another competitive analysis, check out the OECD study The Competitiveness of Global Port-Cities:Synthesis Report.  Chapter 2 is an interesting report on both positive and negative impacts of ports.


Source: Port Strategy

27 Nov 2014
Congestion chaos: US container terminals need to take steps to improve the intensity of infrastructure and equipment usage

Congestion chaos: US container terminals need to take steps to improve the intensity of infrastructure and equipment usage
Drewry has been looking into some of the deeper issues affecting port performance which may be causing the chronic congestion being suffered by ports on the US west coast.

Its new Container Terminal Capacity and Performance Benchmarks report compares capacity and performance benchmarks for 500 terminals worldwide between 2011 and 2013 and may help to explain some of the factors which are hindering ports in North America.
Top of the pile of problems said Neil Davidson, senior analyst, Drewry Ports & Terminals, is that the average performance of North American terminals is well below the world average for teu/metre, teu/gantry crane and teu/hectare per annum (2013 figures).
“North American and in particular US container terminals, need to take steps to improve the intensity of infrastructure and equipment usage”, Mr Davidson said.
He pointed out that US terminals also handle very little transhipment traffic because of high handling costs. The US is more focused on gateway traffic and to further exacerbate the problem it mostly handles imports which tend to have longer dwell times in the yard than exports.
Add to this the problem of terminal size, which in the US is around 25% smaller than the world average, this makes intensive use of port assets more challenging.
The below average performance of North American ports is also a reflection of working hours Mr Davidson said – elsewhere in the world un-interrupted 24/7 working is more commonplace, giving rise to the fact that terminal automation may help solve the congestion issue.
He pointed out that the situation has deteriorated to the level of mud-slinging between the employer PMA, and the ILWU union. Major carriers have had enough and are imposing congestion surcharges for cargo moving through the ports.
The troubles are so bad that cargo owners have written to President Obama warning him that a full shutdown of every west coast port could be imminent. This would be disastrous for the economy with an estimated cost of US$2.5bn per day if it were to last 20 days.
Mr Davidson warned that the solution to the problem will require substantial investment and the cooperation of both the employers and the unions. “The alternative is potentially huge macro-economic costs of further port congestion in future years,” he said.