When a roadway becomes blocked or is otherwise impassable due to weather or other circumstances, the result is upset motorists and relatively minor supply chain disruptions. When railroad or waterway service becomes disrupted, however, the stakes become exponentially higher. Why? The amount of goods being transported that now must stop can greatly impact the supply chains of the companies involved.
Consider this: a single railcar load can carry the equivalent of 4 truckloads. So, if a train is carrying 2 or 3 full railcars of a company’s product and can no longer move, a significant component of its supply chain is just sitting there. When this happens, it is up to emergency shipping solutions from trucking carriers and freight brokers to swoop in and save the day.
How does emergency shipping work?
We like to think of rail distribution operations as an oval. At one end of the oval, you have the production point and at the other end is the distribution point. When operations are running smoothly, you have an equal amount of railcars on each side of the oval. So, if you have 10 railcars, 5 of them are loaded and heading to the distribution point, and another 5 have unloaded at the distribution point and are heading back to the production point. The cycle then repeats continuously.
When service is disrupted, the oval is broken and goods cannot move past the point at which the break occurs. This causes a stoppage in the flow of products as well as backups. Trucks are needed to fill in the gap by unloading and loading product from the stuck railcars and continuing the product’s journey over the road.
Emergency shipping in action
Here are a few examples of disruptions where, as a bulk freight broker, Bulk Connection was able to provide the necessary assistance to keep goods moving.
- Just recently, there were serious rail delays into Stockton, CA from the East. A corn starch manufacturer’s regular bulk shipments to its Stockton facility were going to be significantly late. Bulk Connection was able to source capacity from its carrier network – 4 dry bulk trucks/trailers out of Iowa, and 4 from Illinois. The trucks were loaded, headed West, and the pinch of the rail delay was not felt in the supply chain.
- A few years ago, a Vermont company that regularly ships calcium carbonate (used in specialized paper coatings) to paper plants in Maine had its rail operation significantly disrupted. The cause? Given the locales, it should be no surprise that severe winter weather was the culprit. In fact, the weather-related rail disruption was so severe that Bulk Connection sourced – and ran – 4-to-6 trucks a day for over a-month-and-a-half to compensate for the railcars that were out of action.
Another emergency freight solution a few years back had nothing to do with rail. This time it was water – actually ice. A long stretch of the Chesapeake Bay was frozen solid. Power plants in the region depend on barges to carry diesel fuel to the plants in order to power the electrical grids. The ice meant that the barges couldn’t get through. This was truly an emergency situation, not just for the power plants but for the people in the area who relied on those plants for electricity.
Bulk Connection was brought in to help transport the critical fuel. To accomplish this, we had 12-to-15 trucks at a time loading, traveling up to 100 miles, delivering and coming back to reload and repeat the process. It was truly an around-the-clock operation, with some trucks traveling up to 600 deadhead miles to join in. The emergency shipping continued for a full month but, in the end, the plants received the fuel necessary to continue operating without a hitch.
Preparing for emergencies
Emergency shipping is a bit like the old saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” If an emergency scenario for your company could involve a rail or barge service disruption, then your emergency planning is simple: you’ll need to be able to source trucks to ride out the disruption.
When it comes to sourcing trucks, a freight broker is a great place to start. Brokerage companies like Bulk Connection have a large nationwide network of carriers with available capacity. You can immediately access that network with one phone call. To learn more about Bulk Connection’s brokerage services, contact us today.