Automating Short-Haul Intermodal with Electrified Overhead Rail

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, container shipping was hit as hard as any industry. In the best of times, this vast, labor-intensive network is prone to worker and truck driver shortages, unbalanced hand-offs between distribution nodes, and traffic gridlock and movement lockdowns. In the worst of times, like the pandemic, they face additional delays caused by customs clearance inspections, ports and crew refusals to address certain vessels, and operational shutdowns for decontamination.

This can’t and shouldn’t happen to the trillion-dollar logistics sector that is the literal backbone of our economy and global trade network. The productivity, reliability, safety, and security of the global supply chain depend on it.

Here are just some recent incidents that further drive home this vulnerability:

Early in the crisis, when the rest of the world’s economies were still open and waiting for goods, containers were abandoned at Chinese ports because truck drivers and port workers were on lockdown.

Some ports refused to accept vessels coming from virus-stricken countries, while other ports were shut down temporarily after workers tested positive for COVID-19.

So, we learned two things: First, temporary worker shortages are likely and may be prolonged as a lack of testing and tracking continue. Second, these delays and out-of-sync relationships have caused huge cash-flow problems for many factories, shipping lines, and ports.

Wake-Up Call

In many ways, this large-scale disruption is a wake-up call for the entire shipping and intermodal logistics supply chain, and the tipping point for many ports that now see not only the value of increased port automation, but also extending that automation into short-haul intermodal outside their gates.

To address these concerns, EagleRail is producing an overhead, electrified light-rail shuttling system and service—similar to how Amazon warehouses process 60-pound packages, but with 60,000-pound containers.

Automating intermodal short-haul transportation with electrified overhead rail is a huge advancement during normal logistics processes, but even more beneficial when additional workforce and travel restrictions are in place.

An electrified light-rail shuttling system:

  • Removes the dependency on human workers for repetitive, low-paying, and often dangerous drayage runs
  • Allows this short-haul task to run cleanly and efficiently 24/7/365 without tying up local roads
  • Completes the digital and coming blockchain hand-off from ship to port to drayage to long-haul transportation

Additional port and intermodal automation should be planned for to help prevent the next supply chain interruption. Investment dollars should be set aside now for supply chain systems so our economies become active and healthy more quickly after the next global interruption.

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