Intermodal – Where Do We Go From Here?

Jeff Brashares | TTS, LLC

The History of the Intermodal Chair at TIA

When I arrived in June 1997, members indicated the primary conference they wished to belong to, but we did not have official seats. In 1999, Bill Lindley and Chip Smith were on the TIA Board of Directors and indicated their primary conference was the annual Intermodal Logistics Conference. Prior to that, Donna McCann was on the board and served as Intermodal Conference chair.

In 2003, Rick Rodell of Cornerstone Systems joined the TIA Board of Directors and served as chair for the annual intermodal conference, followed by Robert Dinardo, then with Fort Pitt Consolidators, Inc., who served as conference chair in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, at the annual conference in Tucson Arizona, TIA CEO Robert Voltmann named Jeff Brashares, then with Pacer International, Inc., as intermodal conference chair for the next six years.

Those Early Educational Years

For most of the TIA membership, intermodal was not part of the “toolbelt of services,” a phrase coined by Chip Smith. How best to expose the broker community was the first task facing the intermodal committee.

The rails had a good deal of latent capacity as intermodal had not yet reached its’ renaissance. In fact, carload and intermodal were growing, but neither exponentially.

The group decided the best forum for education would be the yearly convention. “Up Close and Personal” was a great educational tool and one used quite effectively for intermodal exposure at TIA.

Back in the day, as they say, tracks were limited to one hour and there were no more than two tracks at the same time. This allowed members to pick and choose between tracks and increased attendee participation in
each session.

Panels consisted of six to eight railroad executives, anxious to spread the news about the vicissitudes of intermodal. Door to door, intermodal was in its’ infancy; ramp to ramp, was more difficult for new broker intermodal converts, so in many cases we had two representatives from a railroad to talk about each of the services they provided.

During the early years, attendance varied from 50-150 attendees depending on the year. But for those who remember, the TIA was much smaller than it is today, as was convention attendance.

One original member/presenter remains today. Sam Niness, President of TDIS at Norfolk Southern, is still spreading the intermodal good news. Sam took the first big intermodal step, allowing a TIA broker member to ship their first load, free from a laborious credit search of their company’s credit history. This was a great way of encouraging “first-timers” to ship intermodal.

Sam then suggested, after the first couple of years of a rails-only panel, adding broker/3PL users to the panel to relate their “Ease of Entry” stories into the intermodal realm.

Shelli Austin, current President of InTek Freight and Logistics, Inc., joined us as the “door” expert, followed shortly after by Jean Koon, current Director, Rail Management for RVC II Logistics, as the “ramp” expert. At that time, Shelli was with IDS and Jean was with Pacer.

The users added a “reality check” to the rail intermodal providers with their real-life experiences starting and growing their intermodal book of business.

As TIA grew; the convention audience eager to hear about intermodal offerings grew. The rails accomplished their task by presenting guidance on how to get started with easy access to credit for first-time users from other rail carriers besides TDIS/NS. Do’s and don’ts were discussed as detention and storage charges can quickly add up at a railroad terminal if a new user is not careful about making a timely pickup and delivery.

Jim Herwig, former CEO of the Florida East Coast Railway summed it up best when he said, the membership of the Transportation Intermediaries Association is the “final frontier” for the rails to bring into the intermodal fold.

In 2013 the Intermodal Conference commissioned a group of professionals to create “A Broker’s Introduction to Intermodal Transportation” course available through TIA’s Online Educational Program. It has been well received, utilized by members new to intermodal and by experienced IMC’s looking to train new hires.

And so, we have brought many to the intermodal table!

Intermodal Today

As each of the railroads are going through their version of precision scheduled railroading, network rationalization, reducing their cost of operation to achieve a sub-60 operating ratio, the focus on growing business and taking intermodal share from each other has changed.

In 2018, capacity was king – if you found a box, you already had a load – while volume in 2019 has retreated back to the intermodal and highway normal.

Intermodal growth is more controlled by each of the rail carriers in providing the best, most consistent service on each network.

Moving Forward: TIA Intermodal Resources

Thanks to TIA’s Chris Burroughs and the TIA Intermodal Logistics Committee members, Kristy Knichel, CEO & President of Knichel Logistics, Shelli Austin of InTek Freight and Logistics, and Sam Niness, President of TDIS at Norfolk Southern, for creating the new Intermodal Resource Page.

Here you will find an overview of intermodal, plus a list of rail intermodal providers, intermodal marketing company members of TIA, and drayage providers. Contacts are also provided for help and assistance.

For more information on the Intermodal Logistics Committee,
contact TIA Staff Liaison, Chris Burroughs, at [email protected]      

Image credits: BCFC/ and m.mphoto/