• Intermodal to Saint John

  • Discussion relating to the past and present operations of CPR. Official web site can be found here: CPR.CA. Includes Kansas City Southern.
Discussion relating to the past and present operations of CPR. Official web site can be found here: CPR.CA. Includes Kansas City Southern.

Moderators: Komachi, Ken V

  by CPF66
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Sun Mar 03, 2024 10:52 am
CN9634 wrote: Sat Mar 02, 2024 8:15 pm The CN Traffic out of SJ is largely due to the additional customs headaches with some shipments (refrigerated volume for example dealing with the FDA) and getting a few spot containers to CN only destinations such as Memphis. CMA is using them for the Toronto/Montreal ramped containers.
First, quoted in its entirety as necessary to have the following question clear.

Mr. CN, how does your namesake road get preferential treatment from US Customs over CPKC - and possibly Chessie once she is ready to compete at SJ?

But "I get it" regarding a shipment, carload or container, consigned to a point only CN serves in the States. Absent a Shipper's Routing, the Agent is not about to short haul the road that signs his paycheck.

On the road when I was with the MILW doing station inspections, if I noted a short haul reviewing Waybills, I was quick to ask "Why"? If it were a Shipper's routing, I'd ask if Traffic was aware and are they doing something to get us a better haul?
Part of the issue with US Customs (In Maine) is a severe understaffing issue. CN has other ports of entry which are more well traveled than Jackman or Vanceboro and see more trains a day than those two points do in a week. Even if train numbers get bumped up, USCBP still lacks enough agents to keep Vanceboro open more than a few hours a day. Jackman has more flexible hours since there is a regional barracks nearby which serves two busy road crossings and there is a large number of Customs personnel who live nearby. The Houlton and Calais sectors have some of the least busy crossings in the state. The barracks in Calais are an hour and 10 minutes from point to point, or 60 miles. The barracks in Houlton are nearly two hours away, or 75 miles. Thats a lot of distance in between with little or no customs personnel living near the Vanceboro port of entry. With the ongoing crisis on the US-Mexico border, USCBP is diverting large amounts of resources there including sending all new hires there. USCBP has been offering a direct hire program where area candidates can hire on and be directly assigned to the sector they currently live in. However, A. There aren't many people young enough for the job in eastern Maine and B. Most of the applicants fail the background check, drug test, or PT test. Its not like in 2001 where they had 30,000 applicants for 40 positions, talking to an agent down in Calais this past summer he said they had 20 people apply for 50 positions in the last cycle and only one ended up getting hired. And before he had graduated Customs offered him a $15,000 bonus to work the southern border for the next 10 years.

Continuing off of my last statement, the scanner takes 3 people to man it. If they get a hit on a car or container, they have to call in two more agents depending on if its contraband or people trying to sneak across. That adds and hour or two hour delay while agents come up from Calais or down from Houlton. Then when the defective car is inspected preliminarily, the agent in charge decides to either have the car dropped on the siding so it can be torn apart, or if there is an issue with a container they put locks on it and send it to Jackman to be unloaded. This sometimes adds a 3-4 hour delay at Vanceboro. If the port workers at Saint John really screw up the paperwork, sometimes 10+ containers get flagged. Even scanning the trains takes a long time, they have to be done at 5 MPH and once they clear they have to sit while Customs reviews the scan of each car and container. If the scanner was open 24/7 and had appropriate staffing this wouldn't be a problem. But when the crossing is only open a few hours a day and you are trying to cram 3+ trains through in that window, its not feasible. When Customs does have to call guys in from Houlton or Calais, they are stretched so thin that normally they have to close lanes at the truck crossings, or sometimes close some of the smaller ones entirely because they don't have enough agents present to meet USCBP guidelines for staffing. For a while Irving was paying USCBP for the agents wages and overtime to keep the crossing open 12 hours a day, but manpower has dwindled to the point where they wont even do that. And the railroad doesn't just use the rail crossing, the road crossing at Vanceboro is used heavily by crews going to or from the McAdam bunkhouse depending on how the rotation goes. Normally crews do two trips a week from BVJ-McAdam and return. However more often than not, they end up doing half of a round trip and have to drive back to BVJ. USCBP has granted the railroad some leeway, where if there isn't enough personal present on the US side and crews need to ride back to BVJ, they can drive a company vehicle to the bridge, walk across, go through customs, then either take a taxi or company vehicle to BVJ. But when a train is being scanned, no one is allowed to cross on the road crossing when a train is being processed since that leaves only two customs agents at the road crossing (I think the minimum staffing USCBP allows for a crossing to stay open is 4 agents). I am not even sure what the road crossing hours are these days, since every time the railfans I know have been down that way, the lane to the US from Canada and the one to Canada from the US have both been blocked by gates and cruisers. Likewise, I think the Canadian Border Services Agency is suffering the same manpower constraints. Trains don't have to be scanned by CBSA, but I believe they do take paperwork and the crews passports at McAdam.

Which none of this is new, many of these issues are what plagued the short term partnership between MMA and NBSR in the early 2000's when the two roads attempted to run a Saint John-Montreal TOFC/container train, which ultimately lead to that services demise. I think the Nedloyd contract Guilford had around the same period from Halifax and Saint John also suffered from the same issues. Weather or not it gets fixed or not really isn't up to CSX or CPKC, but at this point in time I don't think either railroad can resolve this issue unless Customs gets more agents up here.
  by KuBand12
 
CN is not making any kind of a dent in the intermodal business at Saint John. From what I've seen, it's around 10 to 25 containers on one train per week. It may not even go every week. It's virtually all CMA and essentially zero Hapag. It is what I expect from a railroad desperately trying to keep it's monopoly in Halifax.

It is truly unfortunate that border crossings are so complicated in New Brunswick. That is a factor of neglectful governments who are a big part of this equation. The businesses that need that link open 24/7 have nothing to do with the decision to open or close them. The most frustrating part of this is that Canada and the US have been the world's largest trading pair for a long, long time. China may have taken that position recently. I don't know, and I don't think it matters that much. If China did take that spot, Canada would be the #2.

But with all of that business, New Brunswick does not have a 24 hour rail crossing with Maine. That will have to be resolved, and should have been a long time ago. I have to assume that situation has been and is being worked on. The alternative is the loopy route up north of New Brunswick and then the long leg down to Montreal. That is way out of the way when the efficient route is staring us all in the face. Much more traffic is expected and will be coming their way. DP World has a 30 year contract with PSJ and they want to be successful along with CPKC and NBSR/EMR. CSX wants to be part of that equation also I believe, but it makes sense especially right now that they focus on digging the rest of the PanAm rail out of the mud in Maine and New England. There is still much work to do in Maine. Irving is converting to CWR in Maine And NB. That is a four year project. Joe Hinrichs has stated fast trains in Maine in 2024. Let's hope so.

It's easy to sit back and watch the intermodal business take a year off because of many factors. I look at this past year as purely a result of a worldwide downturn in intermodal business due to over supply of ship capacity. It's not totally unexpected after the meteoric rise in 2022. I look at NY/NJ for comparison. In calendar year 2023, NY/NJ was down significantly every month of 2023 except for December. The only reason they weren't down in December 2023 was because they were down 20.5% in December 2022 already. It would be a disaster if they were down again on that performance. NY/NJ was down YoY 2023/2022 by 17.7% after a 3.4% gain in December '23. Saint John had a not huge, but, the only, increase of all intermodal ports in Canada. Montreal was down by ~13%.

The Red Sea issue is being forced upon everybody with higher costs and transit times, but it is currently baked in. I think shippers want to see it stay for awhile because it has shored up their business for now allowing them to charge enough to return them to profitability. When the Red Sea gets sorted out, the issue of supply/demand in shipping capacity will need to be dealt with or it'll be 2023 again.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
WOW, but without belittling Mr. NHV's faithful reporting of the consists he observes at Greenville Jct, this discussion has become an education into maritime industry affairs - and now into the affairs of border protection.

Why is all this relevant at a railroad discussion site? Because a Class I road, has committed, what; several $B, to buy some broken down road (well; away from where passenger trains operate) with the expectation of handling high value traffic, i.e. maritime containers, through a relatively small (not by any means backwater) port that has tidal conditions with which to contend (wish I could find on the web, Tidal Charts with which I had to become familiar when I was a Fairfield Navy Cadet).

The matter of Customs inspections throws a whole new parameter into our discussion - and one that I can only hope that Chessie's "masters" in Jax properly considered.

From the discussion, it appears that both border protection agencies - Canada and USA - must load agents into a van from the auto frontier at St. Croix to the rail frontier to properly inspect the train. I would presume that means walking the train checking that the seals on each Container are secure so that the "bad guys" aren't using a Container to "transport their product" from here to there, as well as all other formalities.

And, as Mr. CPF has noted, both agencies are understaffed.

I presume, but just plain don't know, larger ports have electronic means to inspect these container seals. I would trust such are active at the larger rail-to-rail ports, such as Sarnia, Laredo, et al. But all told, this would appear to be a major factor in making the Port of Saint John and Chessie competitive.
  by NHV 669
 
To be fair, Mr. Norman, I figured that was the purpose of this forum; I simply post the trains as visual and verifiable confirmation of the traffic coming from points such as Saint John.

121 was into Greenville Jct. at 07:48 with 7034, 29 mixed freight, 29 wells/42 containers, 8952 (DPU), 54 wells/104 containers.

[Edited at 14:00]

120 was into Greenville Jct. at 13:00 with 8836/KCSM 4073/8781, 5 GREX 11-car sets of loaded ballast, 40 mixed freight (5 loaded autoracks), 35 wells/64 containers, one empty well.
Screenshot_20240304_135355_YouTube.jpg
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  by CN9634
 
Customs inspection used to be much simplier during the first CP tenure. Basically US CBP would spot check that seals were intact moving across the border. It may have had a time associated with it to, like if they moved within 24 hours. That would still make the most sense today, because if these are moving under bond then no reason to pull and inspect anything unless you are pre-clearing cargo to/from US ramps ultimately.

Actually at the end of the day US Customs is doing Canadian customs a massive favor, because the Canadians accept the US Standards for searching, its saving them having to do any more thorough inspection. Then again, SJ has become a route for drugs and stolen cars, as any major port, hidden in the bowels of cargo boxes.
  by CPF66
 
You also have to keep in mind that those standards were pre-9/11 as well.
Over the years they have caught a large amount of contraband at Jackman and Vanceboro ranging from people trying to sneak across to firearms and such. I believe in the 90's-2000's there was a marijuana trafficking (I recall reading a book on the subject years ago) ring which hid said product on rail cars as they passed through Maine.

Additionally to address some other comments, its highly unlikely Customs will get more personnel up here. The situation in Texas and Arizona makes national headlines almost daily, so as inconvenient as it is for the railroads, they are small beans in the grand scheme of things.

To clarify some of the stuff I said for Mr. Norman, US Customs X-Rays every train which enters the US from Jackman and Vanceboro. Van Buren is the exception and that is done visually by USCBP agents. But they have a shipping manifest on one screen and if the contents of a rail car don't match what is on the screen, it gets flagged. They don't necessarily check every car, but ones that get flagged, those get searched. Now the human error aspect causes a lot of the issues with Customs. The port frequently puts containers in a different order than what it shows in the shipping manifest that goes to customs.

Not to knock Irving any, but the yard crews at Saint John also occasionally mix up the mixed freight traffic the same trains haul. Which this could be resolved with installing AEI readers at the west end of Saint John. Every car would get scanned and they could send an updated list to customs. Which I should add, this would only fix the issue with the mixed freight. There would still be issues with the containers being flagged, since containers don't have AEI tags.

As for the rail project on NBSR, that will be done this summer. CWR crews already have to Fredericton Jct completed and have one strand in between there and Harvey. Winter froze them out before they could get the other one in, but they were able to weld up all the to be installed CWR (They welded new sticks of 115 into CWR on site) for that section. I believe the MOW dept has been unloading the remaining rail over the winter and the tie gang should be starting in Saint John as soon as the ground thaws. They have also been dumping the necessary ballast for the work, over the winter.

As for the Maine CWR installation, they have started to lay the new ties which will be installed as part of the work. I believe they are getting most of the materials before the grant paperwork is finalized (similar to the work done on MNR last year). But once the NBSR rail work is completed the gang is heading to MNR to install stick rail in a number of spots. That too will eventually be welded into CWR.
  by NHV 669
 
121 was into Greenville Jct. at 07:23 with 8836/KCSM 4073, 37 mixed freight, 12 wells/17 containers.

[Edited at 13:24]

120 was into Greenville Jct. at 11:46 with 8951/KCS 4577, 17 mixed freight (3 loaded autoracks), 16 wells/27 containers, one empty well.
  by QB 52.32
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote:Finally, to close with a thought on topic, Chessie thinks she can be competitive needing 2-3 days to get a shipment from SJ to an "interchange" with the B&A at presumably Worcester?
As I see it, Mr. Norman, 2nd-3rd-day Port Saint John/Worcester, MA & speedy connections gets 6th-7th-day served midwestern US total transit, available unused train capacity, and Chessie into the transit- and price-competitive ballpark with only single-stack if she's willing and able.
Gilbert B Norman wrote:But let us not lose sight that under Staggers, the industry can negotiate rates, including incentive rates (you ship so much and you get this rate. Otherwise you don't), but they must submit that rate as information to the Surfboard (think the term Tariff is still used). This is because there is still regulation with regards to discrimination (you gave that rate to that guy, you will also give it to me).
Today's regulatory environment is largely about market freedoms, including negotiated, differentiated, customer-specific rates confidentially contracted out of the STB's sight and handling ~75% of traffic.

Of the ~25% of traffic moving instead on market-based, generally higher, public tariff rates, only the non-exempt within the STB's limited sight can be challenged on the basis of reasonableness, but not discrimination.
  by Gilbert B Norman
 
QB 52.32 wrote: Tue Mar 05, 2024 7:42 pm Today's regulatory environment is largely about market freedoms, including negotiated, differentiated, customer-specific rates confidentially contracted out of the STB's sight and handling ~75% of traffic.

Of the ~25% of traffic moving instead on market-based, generally higher, public tariff rates, only the non-exempt within the STB's limited sight can be challenged on the basis of reasonableness, but not discrimination.
Mr. QB, once again for all concerned, I left the MILW - and the industry - December 1981 - for private CPA practice. Staggers was still being implement so I have no first-hand experience regarding publication and discrimination in the post-Staggers rate setting process.

My source for the matters being addressed was The Late Randy Resor (Nellie Bly around here), who at the time of his passing @61yo (he was never in the world's greatest of health) was with the FRA (and whom I met face to face about half dozen times). He was the source for my immediate thoughts.

But when compared with what existed under the "yoke of the ICC", Staggers was "paradise' even if it simply gave the roads "parity" with the other modes - especially highway. Even though he imposed nonsense such as with Amtrak to run a "train to nowhere" (oh, but through his District), I hold he was the man who saved the railroad industry, for when I was with it, the only course appeared nationalization.
  by NHV 669
 
121 was into Greenville Jct. at 09:34 with 8951, 47 mixed freight (8 autoracks), 1 well/1 container, KCS 4577 (DPU), 47 wells/81 containers.

[Edited at 15:45]

120 was into Greenville Jct. at 15:33 with 7034/9803, 46 mixed freight, 35 wells/75 containers, 40 empty wells.
  by NHV 669
 
121 was into Greenville Jct. at 08:36 with 7034, 30 mixed freight, 33 single stack wells, 9803 (DPU), 46 wells/72 containers, 17 empty autoracks.

120 was into Greenville Jct. at 13:55 with 8201/KCSM 4562/KCSM 4073, 30 mixed freight (2 loaded autoracks), 17 wells/19 containers, 14 empty wells.
  by QB 52.32
 
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Wed Mar 06, 2024 7:27 amMr. QB, once again for all concerned, I left the MILW - and the industry - December 1981 - for private CPA practice. Staggers was still being implement so I have no first-hand experience regarding publication and discrimination in the post-Staggers rate setting process.
But when compared with what existed under the "yoke of the ICC", Staggers was "paradise' even if it simply gave the roads "parity" with the other modes - especially highway.
Thank you, Mr, Norman. Allowing railroads the freedoms to much more fully compete on the basis of markets and not only in consideration of railroad v. railroad, but more broadly modally, across production and geographic considerations, and toward future shipper and innovation considerations as well, looks to me to have proved the better choice vs. nationalization.

Circling back to that topic of routing and raised here concerning US container traffic, the contrast between "shippers routing" of that regulated era vs. today, is that the totality of those market freedoms has dramatically reduced what was once the practice where generally a shipper could choose at will among multiple routes over various carriers and gateways between two points, at that time for the same undifferentiated rate that could only be publicly published and strictly regulated on the basis of non-discrimination within the wider marketplace.

This might have worked toward singular benefits among shippers, but to the possible disadvantage to a carrier, like short-hauling "your" MILW , and at certain cost to the industry.
  by NHV 669
 
121 was into Greenville Jct. at 09:51 with 8201/KCSM 4562/KCSM 4073, one empty centerbeam, 33 wells/52 containers, 34 mixed freight.

[Edited at 15:30]

120 was into Greenville Jct. at 14:32 with 8916/KCS 4112, 74 wells/107 containers, 17 empty wells, 35 mixed freight (6 loaded autoracks).
  by NHV 669
 
121 was into Greenville Jct. at 09:27 with 8781/KCS 4112, 24 mixed freight, 54 wells/117 containers, 8916 (DPU), 28 wells/56 containers, 29 mixed freight, 5 sets of welded 11 car GREX ballast hoppers.
Screenshot_20240309_094721_YouTube.jpg
[Edited at 15:51]

120 was into Greenville Jct. at 13:40 with 8782/KCS 4687, 42 mixed freight (20 loaded autoracks), one empty well.
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  by NHV 669
 
120 was into Greenville Jct. at 13:42 with 8838/KCSM 4562/KCSM 4073, 67 wells/116 containers, 10 empty wells, 24 mixed freight (5 loaded autoracks).

No idea if 120 went by during the 3 hours the camera was down this morning.
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