As retailers begin gearing up for the holiday season, there are warnings of a potential nationwide shipping deadlock. A shortage of railroad workers, not enough rail cars, and importers failing to pick up their cargo has once again piled up at the port of Los Angeles.,
Port director Jean Cerocca said containers are already piling up and clogging up the docks.
“There are about 35,000 containers that are designated for rail at our docks right now,” he said. “A typical day looks like 9,000 units.”
Serocca said if nothing is done about the containers, the ships could be brought back again in four to six weeks.
Ben Nolan, an analyst specializing in transportation at Stifel Financial, said that over the past three years, the railroad has lost 20% of its workforce.
“A lot of it is because they have cut their own workforce,” he said. “When you’re over-skilled, you’re not prepared for unexpected things like a pandemic.”
Nolan said the railroad tried to streamline operations with a practice called “precision scheduled railroading”, which sometimes uses shorter trains.
Eric Gehringer, vice president of Union Pacific Operations, said the railroad has hired hundreds of new employees.
“We’re handling that volume,” he told CBS News. “Resources beyond the railroad, that’s where we need to see the benefits.”
Rail containers move inland where goods are moved and delivered. But with a truck driver shortage and cargo glut – there is nowhere to unload the containers.
“The warehouses are full,” Nolan said.
“It all starts with the importer picking up their goods inland a little bit faster,” Serocca said.
But the system can also fail quickly.
Dockworkers at the port told CBS News they had been without a contract for a month, and railroad workers said they were on a “dead end” after two years of negotiations. The White House recently assembled an emergency team to help railroads survive the strike.