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Interest in new products, services is moving forward

Jun 30, 2014 | 08:00 PM | Myra Pinkham

While steelmakers have been slow to embrace intermodal transportation, it seems like the tide could be changing.

“We are definitely seeing an interest in shipping of steel products intermodally,” Raildecks Inc. chief executive officer Rick Jocson said. The Calgary, Alberta-based company developed a 53-foot-long, 102-inch-wide truck-to-rail intermodal container that does not have any sidewalls or ceiling and can be used to carry steel and other industrial products.

It is difficult to forecast how much steel is likely to be shipped intermodally this year, but Jocson expects to see “significant” load conversions. “I think this past cold weather season exposed how the conventional transportation networks could be slowed down significantly,” he said.

In 2013, the first full year of commercial production, Raildecks containers moved more than 2,000 loads of industrial products, such as steel ingot, coil, plate, bar, pipe and conduit, aluminum ingot and coil, plastic tubing, construction materials and finished products, Jocson said. About 85 percent or more of the products being moved by Raildecks are steel products.

Paul D. Sever, executive vice president and general manager of CMI Logistics LLC, said to be the largest intermodal transporter of metal products in North America, agreed that an increase in intermodal transportation is likely. Orland Park, Ill.-based CMI moves about 50,000 tons per month of carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum and specialty alloys intermodally by using a load-and-roll pallet (LRP) to transload metal products from a flatbed truck into an ocean container, which then gets loaded onto a rail car and transloaded to another flatbed truck for delivery, Sever said.

LRPs have been around since 1987, but CMI is the only company that currently uses them--even though some of the patents on the seven designs of pallets have expired, Sever said. CMI works with all the major North American aluminum producers and a majority of U.S. steelmakers to ship some of their products intermodally, he said.

Other products use sled technology to help steelmakers take advantage of the rail-truck intermodal network, while West Chester, Pa.-based Coil-Tainer Ltd. uses a protective cradle for ocean transportation.

Even though many of these products were designed with the needs of metal shippers in mind, most companies continue to be wary of taking the leap to intermodal.

The problem with any of the products, according to Philip K. Bell, president of the Washington-based Steel Manufacturers Association, is that they could increase capital costs for steelmakers, who are already struggling to maintain their competitive edge in a business environment that includes significant increases in rail and trucking freight rates.

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