Container backlogs add to tensions at U.S. ports.

Containers piling up in U.S. rail yards add to port tensions

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To understand why more than 100 container ships are waiting to enter U.S. ports from Southern California to Savannah, Georgia, it’s helpful to keep an eye on the congestion building up at another key freight hub: rail yards.

So-called container dwell time at 11 major rail depots averaged 9.8 days this month, according to a count of its own boxes by Hapag-Lloyd AG, the world’s fifth-largest container carrier. That’s up from 6.7 days in May and 5.9 days in February.

Leading the way is Los Angeles, where containers wait an average of almost 16 days before being picked up. Delays are also increasing in Charleston, South Carolina, and Detroit. The figures show some improvement in Long Beach, California, and Kansas City.

In its e-mailed note this week, Hapag-Lloyd said port officials are extending operating hours to nights and weekends to alleviate pileups at intermodal lots jammed with full and empty containers. Backlogs at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in particular, he said, “are expected to continue through the rest of the year.”

In addition to heavy import demand, a big part of the problem is a shortage of truck drivers to pick up and drop off 20- and 40-foot steel boxes.

“We have literally hundreds of disruptions in our supply chain, changing on a daily and weekly basis,” said Jonathon Nudi, president of General Mills’ North American retail group. “Most of our discussions right now with retailers really revolve around service and making sure we can ship the product that our consumers are ultimately looking for.”

Source Bloomberg

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