Alaska: The Vast Frontier
By offering air, barge, ocean carrier, rail, and trucking services, logistics providers excel at transporting goods to, from, and within Alaska.
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As proven by the popularity of TV shows such as Alaska: The Last Frontier and Ice Road Truckers, people are intrigued by the stories of the men and women who live and work in Alaska. After all, there are few places in the world quite like it.
Despite Alaska's vastness—it encompasses more than 660,000 square miles of land, one-fifth the size of the contiguous United States—its population remains below 750,000, even though 58 years have passed since it was admitted as the 49th state. Located 500 miles from Washington (its nearest state), less than half of Alaska's roads are paved, and its weather is very unpredictable, to say the least.
Considering the state's location, rural highway system, and size, it is difficult for Alaska-based companies to accurately plan their shipment arrivals, let alone costs. But, with the assistance of logistics professionals, many of whom have been transporting goods to, from, and within Alaska for decades, companies can minimize shipment service interruptions, as well as costs.
"At Lynden we do all we can to keep the end-to-end costs as low as possible, even when we are shipping to Alaska's most remote areas," says Steve Hartmann, vice president of sales and marketing at Anchorage-based Lynden Transport, which pioneered scheduled truck service between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest in 1954.
For more than half a century, the Alaska-based Lynden family of companies, including Alaska Marine Lines, Alaska West Express, Lynden Air Cargo, Lynden International, and Lynden Transport, has offered customers a full range of transportation options to ship freight to, from, and within Alaska—exactly how and when it is needed.
For instance, Lynden provides twice weekly scheduled barge service to southeast Alaska, as well as twice weekly scheduled ship, barge, and over-the-road QuickTrans service to central Alaska. For shipments that are destined to a remote area, such as Alaska's Bush points, Lynden Transport will first route them to Anchorage, where they are taken to Lynden's facility at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. From there, Lynden Air Cargo or Lynden International, a freight forwarding services company, will forward the shipments to virtually any remote destination point.
Alaska Airlines is also dedicated to serving customers throughout The Last Frontier. After acquiring cargo from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (its largest hub), via combi or freighter aircraft, Alaska Airlines distributes products on a scheduled service—from its hub in Anchorage to various locations around the state. If shipments are large and time-sensitive, they will typically be transported by the company's Priority Air Freight service; next available flight services are also offered through the company's Goldstreak Package Express service, as long as they weigh 150 pounds or less.
"For these smaller parcels, we offer connections to Anchorage through many gateways, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland," says Jason Berry, managing director, air cargo for Alaska Airlines. "After they are delivered to Anchorage, the parcels can then be distributed quickly and easily to customers around the state."
As a major contributor to industries such as commercial fishing, construction, natural gas, and oil, Alaska-based companies also have thousands of goods that must be transported daily outside of the state.
To serve these customers, Alaska Airlines also transfers goods from various commercial primary and non-primary airports—with locations ranging from Fairbanks to Sitka—to its hubs in Seattle and Anchorage. Upon arrival, the goods will then be shipped to Hawaii and the lower 48 states, as well as countries within and outside of North and Central America.
MINIMIZING THE IMPACT OF ALASKA'S VASTNESS
As an alternative to airfreight services, Lynden Transport also provides expedited over-the-road service via the Alcan Highway. By offering two QuickTrans scheduled departures every week, the company's trucks are able to depart from Fife, Wash., on Tuesday and Friday evenings and arrive in Anchorage and Fairbanks 54 to 56 hours later—on Friday and Monday mornings, respectively.
"QuickTrans is a great alternative to air service, as it allows freight to move over the weekend for Monday morning delivery, resulting in significant savings, when compared to standard air services," Hartmann explains.
In addition to departing from Fife, Wash., Lynden Transport's trucks also depart from Houston and Dallas, thereby providing scheduled, over-the-road service to oil industry locations—from Texas and Oklahoma through North Dakota and Alberta, Canada—prior to arriving at the North Slope of Alaska. While doing so, they travel over the Alcan highway system, so they are able to service other communities along the way as well.
Furthermore, cargo that is moving southbound from Alaska can be shipped at whichever speed customers require, as service options like air, barge, highway (QuickTrans), and ship are all available. While using Lynden Transport's QuickTrans southbound service, commodities like fresh seafood move on regular scheduled departures. At the same time, Lynden International flies cargo from the state's commercial primary and nonprimary airports to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport; from there, they will forward the cargo, via air freight services, to communities throughout the world.
COMMITMENT TO QUALITY
Reddaway, a part of YRC Worldwide's YRC Regional Transportation since 2008, has a more narrow focus, as it currently transports goods from 11 western states, along with British Columbia, to the Port of Tacoma. After arriving in Washington, the goods are then delivered on ocean carriers to locations like Anchorage, Kenai, Kodiak, and Wasilla—as a direct result of Reddaway's partnership with Span Alaska, which acquired Pacific Alaska Freightways' assets in 2015. For roughly 20 years prior to the acquisition, Reddaway had worked alongside Pacific Alaska Freightways as a service partner.
Currently, Reddaway has two types of product deliveries to the Port of Tacoma: Standard and Guaranteed, a service that is typically only provided when time is of the essence. Regardless of shipment needs, the company guarantees that customers' products arrive at the Port of Tacoma safely and on-time for one of two weekly sailings—Wednesday and Friday. Aside from its timeliness, the company is also renowned for its 99.9 percent damage-free delivery, as well as a claim ratio that is lower than one percent.
"Our commitment to quality is unmistakable: e-track trailers, loading decks, airbags, dunnage, and cargo straps are prominent throughout our system," says Steve Selvig, vice president of sales and marketing at Reddaway, a Tualatin, Ore.-based company. "Our customers' supply chain needs to Alaska are met with the seamless integration of Reddaway's and Span Alaska's domestic services."
He adds, "It has been said that the supply chain is only as strong as the weakest link and, with respect to Alaska, the two common 'weak links' are the integrated transition from domestic to ocean transport, as well as continuous shipment visibility. Reddaway and Span Alaska have become proficient at both—with a seamless shipment flow, complemented by multiple electronic data interchange (EDI) updates that provide visibility to all key events that occur door-to-door."
Through this proficiency, as well as the fact that the company owns and operates each of its own terminals in cities like Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Kenai, Span Alaska is able to provide direct service, including final mile delivery, to approximately 95 percent of the state's population.
"A majority of the freight moves from the Port of Tacoma to the Port of Anchorage within four to five days," says Chuck Onstott, vice president of operations, Anchorage-based Span Alaska. "However, southeast Alaska only receives goods via air and barge services. The barge currently leaves the Port of Seattle twice a week (on Wednesdays and Fridays) and arrives to its destinations five to six days later."
Unlike Reddaway, Span Alaska receives freight from the lower 48 states at its Auburn, Wash., 93-door consolidation terminal. From there, a majority of the shipments are crossdocked and loaded into ocean containers, which are then directed to appropriate delivering terminals. Upon arrival, Span Alaska's trucks will transport goods to a majority of the state's regions.
Aside from their shipping partnership, Reddaway and Span Alaska are also connected in other ways. First, Span Alaska's transportation service fees are added to Reddaway's delivery receipts, so Reddaway customers will only receive one invoice with itemized charges. Furthermore, Reddaway and Span Alaska are also linked through EDI.
"Since scanned images of shipping documents and shipment status updates are available, customers can monitor their delivery status from the western United States all the way to their Alaskan destinations," states Selvig. "We can transport any size shipment, from pallet to truckload, on time and damage free."
Span Alaska also partners with Reddaway to transport goods from Alaska to the lower 48 states. All cargo is acquired by Span Alaska's trucks and then transferred to one of the company's six terminals—Anchorage, Anchorage South, Fairbanks, Kenai, Kodiak, and Wasilla.
"After shipments are direct loaded from Span Alaska's terminals, they will set sail to the Port of Tacoma, where they are picked up and delivered stateside with our damage-free service," Selvig says. "By transporting goods to and from Alaska as partners, Reddaway and Span Alaska's alliance has resulted in the single largest freight forwarding team serving the state, with faster delivery times, as well as expanded geographies."
RAIL-WATER-RAIL: SERVICE FROM MEXICO TO ALASKA
Companies based in The Last Frontier also often choose to utilize the services of rail companies such as Alaska Railroad. Not only is rail the most fuel-efficient option, but, according to Alaska Railroad's director of freight sales and marketing, Tim Williams, it can also handle more capacity than any other transportation method.
Although the company's train only arrives in Alaska once per week, generally on Wednesday, it can move shipments from anywhere in the contiguous United States, as well as Canada and Mexico. The Anchorage-based company can also arrange for pickup at the point of origin, along with delivery for any non-rail served customers.
More often than not, customers choose Alaska Railroad if they are moving large, cumbersome items such as bridge girders, building materials, and lumber either to or within the state. And, even if its customers are working in remote areas that are "off the rail," Alaska Railroad strives to deliver products on time and under budget.
"When it comes to moving bulk commodities such as cement, chemicals, coal, hazardous materials, and raw and refined petroleum products, no freight operator has the hauling capabilities of the Alaska Railroad," Williams says.
To transport freight from Canada, Mexico, and the contiguous United States to Alaska, Alaska Railroad relies on its rail-water-rail service, known formally as Alaska Rail-Marine Service. Once a week, the company's railcars are rolled onto rail-equipped barges in Seattle, and then transported to Whittier, Alaska. The barges usually leave on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning and arrive at Whittier Harbor seven days later.
"Throughout this entire transportation process, the freight never needs to be transloaded, whether the barges are arriving in Whittier or returning to Seattle," Williams continues. "By providing timely service, Alaska Rail-Marine Service is able to move approximately 2,100 loaded railcars annually."
Upon arrival, Alaska Railroad's customers can receive a single invoice for loading and delivery, regardless of the shipment methods they require (barge, railcar, or truck), another benefit of the company's services. This proof of purchase method does not vary according to the locations of customers or the sizes and weights of the products that are shipped.
OCEAN CARRIERS STRENGTHEN ALASKA'S SUPPLY CHAIN
Time after time, Alaska's vastness has been recognized as a primary obstacle to freight transportation companies, especially as they strive to improve upon the accuracy and timeliness of their shipments. However, the challenges of ocean carrier transportation should not be underestimated either.
For more than 130 years, Matson, a Honolulu-based ocean carrier, has transported goods to the remote communities of Hawaii. But, starting on May 29, 2015, the carrier began to offer twice a week, lift on/lift off (LO/LO) container service to the Alaska market as well, after purchasing Horizon Lines. Prior to the acquisition, Horizon Lines, which was previously known as Sea-Land Services Inc., had transported goods to Alaska for 51 years.
Since acquiring Horizon Lines, Matson has helped strengthen the state's supply chain by investing approximately $30 million in its Alaskan operations. So far, the carrier has purchased a new crane at Kodiak's port, as well as hundreds of insulated and regular containers, trucks, and power equipment.
"Matson has the financial depth to continually reinvest in its operations and make the kinds of capital investments that will maintain its high standards for reliability and customer service," says Kenny Gill, vice president, Alaska, Matson.
On a weekly basis, the carrier's vessels depart from the Port of Tacoma on Wednesday and Friday. Four days later, on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively, the vessels' cargo will arrive at the Port of Anchorage; all remaining cargo will then be transported to Kodiak (arriving on Monday and Wednesday, respectively) and Dutch Harbor (arriving on Friday).
According to Gill, Matson ships roughly 70,000 containers each year in the Alaska market. Nearly all commodities can be shipped, including construction materials, groceries, heavy equipment, military goods, seafood, and vehicles. Gill believes this aggregate will rise in the coming years, as more shippers learn about Matson and its reputation for quality and reliability.
BY THE SEA
Since 1975, another ocean carrier, TOTE Maritime Alaska (formerly known as Totem Ocean Trailer Express), has also improved the state's supply chain by shipping cargo from anywhere in the United States to the Port of Anchorage. But, rather than offering LO/LO container service, the carrier owns and operates two Orca Class, roll on/roll off (RO/RO) vessels instead.
The vessels, which were built by NASSCO, have been in service since 2003. In fact, they were specifically designed for voyages to Alaska, as they have ice-strengthened hulls at their bow, as well as reinforced propellers and rudders. They also have a capacity of 600 40-foot equivalents of trailer cargo and 250 automobiles.
"The size of the equipment we are able to handle is extremely flexible, so distribution centers in the lower 48 states, which are accustomed to shipping 53-foot trailers, can serve their Alaska stores the same way they would serve a store in Seattle, for instance," says Bill Crawford, vice president of sales and marketing at Federal Way, Wash.-based TOTE Maritime Alaska.
Each week, the carrier's vessels depart from the Port of Tacoma on Thursday and Saturday mornings; three days later, they arrive at the Port of Anchorage. After about eight hours of loading and discharge time, they immediately depart back to the Port of Tacoma to prepare for another shipment delivery.
To ensure the carrier remained aware of its carbon footprint, especially as its Orca Class vessels travel from Alaska to Washington and back, TOTE Maritime Alaska announced in 2012 that it would convert its fleet to operate strictly on liquefied natural gas. The company's first vessel is scheduled for conversion in late 2016, while its second vessel will be converted in late 2017. Once the conversion has been completed, the Orca Class vessels will be the third and fourth cargo ships in the United States (second only to TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico's Marlin Class ships) to run on liquefied natural gas.
"As a result of this conversion, vessel emissions such as sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide will decline by 100, 90, and 35 percent, respectively," Crawford adds. "Emissions reductions will also lead to healthier air quality for TOTE Maritime Alaska employees, as well as the communities they serve."
Even though Matson and TOTE Maritime Alaska annually serve thousands of customers through their shipments to Anchorage, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor, thousands of other Alaskans do not acquire cargo from either of these carriers, as they live and work in remote areas.
To serve these customers, many of whom are based in southeast Alaska, Lynden's Alaska Marine Lines offers twice a week barge services to and from southeast Alaska. Alaska Marine Lines also reaches the Aleutian Islands with regular service to Dutch Harbor; additionally, during the ice-free season, the company offers services to western Alaska and the Arctic.
According to Kevin Anderson, president of Alaska Marine Lines, the twice weekly scheduled barge service to central Alaska is a viable economic option, as roughly 20 percent of the goods that are transported between central Alaska and the lower 48 states are moved via barge, including general commodities, building supplies, dry and frozen goods, and seafood.
"Barge is an effective, low-cost solution, especially for customers that have known inventory turnover cycles for non-perishable types of goods," Anderson states. "Although the service time is longer for barge than ship service, it is generally less expensive."
SHIPPING WITHIN THE LAST FRONTIER
In the meantime, residents of Alaska's remote areas are also able to ship goods throughout the state for personal and business-related purposes, due to Lynden's flexibility and multiple transportation options.
"In addition to providing Alaska intrastate service in central Alaska, Lynden Transport offers service between central and southeast Alaska, thereby economically connecting these two geographically separated areas," Hartmann says.
Alaskans in populated areas such as Anchorage and Wasilla can also transfer goods within the state through the services of companies like Span Alaska.
"A majority of the Alaskan population is centered in the state's south central region," Span Alaska's Chuck Onstott says. "Through Span Alaska's network of brick and mortar terminals, the company can provide intra-Alaska service to the local communities of these populated cities as well."
UNIQUE SERVICE PROVIDERS FOR A DISTINCT MARKET
There are few places in the world quite like Alaska. The Last Frontier's erratic weather conditions—ice, snow, avalanches—offer even the most experienced logistics professionals daunting challenges to consider as they transport goods to, from, and within the state.
But when one considers the geography of the state as well, from its mountains to its forests, not to mention the magnitude of its vastness (over 660,000 square miles), the value of timely, accurate transportation service becomes even more apparent.
"Prior to shipping goods to or from Alaska, companies must find logistics providers who understand their unique needs," Onstott says. "Then, after finding proper providers, companies should build long-term relationships that are based on positive results, effective communication, and a proven track record."
Sometimes providers will also work together through an integrated partnership, much like Reddaway and Span Alaska, to help streamline the overall shipment process.
"With this integrated partnership, the shipment of goods to Alaska, through the assistance of Reddaway and Span Alaska, has become very similar to domestic freight movement," Reddaway's Steve Selvig explains. "Customers should also consider aligning with asset-based carriers that provide direct loading, which reduces handling and transit times. They may also be interested in maintaining constant shipment visibility via multiple EDI updates, and using their own Alaska-based terminal networks, so that local residents can work with other local residents."
Meanwhile, if companies are shipping products to Alaska's stores for customer purchases, they must remember that goods are shipped to Alaska much differently than they are shipped to the lower 48 states.
"Because of extreme weather, as well as ocean transit, products must be loaded differently on ships that are travelling to Alaska," TOTE Maritime Alaska's Bill Crawford says. "And, since most Alaska-based stores don't have distribution centers, they receive products only once or twice each week. If companies are interested in selling products in Alaska, they should remember both of these shipping components as they prepare their inventory."
Lynden's Steve Hartmann agrees with Crawford's sentiment, adding, "If companies research their options and choose logistics providers and solutions that best suit their unique needs, they can enjoy success and growth as they participate in the Alaskan market."