Winter Weather Taking Its Toll on North American Logistics

January 24, 2014
By Rich Roche

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With this month’s second major cold weather snap upon us, the impact on transportation is being felt across our country.


On the East Coast, vessel berthing was delayed this week when terminals were closed for two days. This will impact transfer times between terminals and railroads, as well as slow down the trucking community. Worse, however, is the short term chassis shortage we’re facing, the result of so many containers sitting idle outside terminals, unable to be delivered or returned.


To compound the problem, the recent polar vortex prompted railroads to reduce train length as a safety precaution, leading to backlogs at many U.S. inland points. One major derailment impacted the railroad mainline, resulting in containers being stuck at various points in the system. The cleanup is expected to take a few weeks, so unfortunately, delays will continue for some time.

Canadian routings are not faring much better. Struck by the same polar vortex, they’ve had backlogs stretching all the way to the West Coast ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

Some Good News

One mixed blessing may be the void vessel schedule during Chinese New Year, which starts at the end of next week. Since such large volumes of cargo were loaded in the weeks preceding the holiday, a 1-2 week reprieve is expected in mid-February, when vessel arrivals will be light. The upside is that this will provide a much needed gap to finish the cleanup efforts from the storms. The downside is that vessel space will be tight at most China origins for the first half February, causing slower cargo flows.

This tough combination of events may impact your cargo. If you have shipments already running on a tight schedule, you may want to consult your Mohawk customer service representative to see if any special arrangements might be needed to avoid missing those deadlines altogether.

Rich Roche is Vice President, International Transportation for Mohawk Global Logistics.