Use Innovative Strategies to Relieve Congestion at Marine Terminals

University of Memphis researchers are assessing gate appointment systems, extended hours of operations for terminal gates, and advanced technologies for gates and terminals as strategies to reduce truck traffic congestion at marine terminals.


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Lesson Learned

One of the major problems at marine container terminals is that the terminal gates, where trucks enter and exit the terminal to deliver or pick-up a container, are only open during certain hours on weekdays; due in part to union agreements, although operations within the terminal carry on 24/7. Consequently, trucks are forced to pick-up and deliver containers during specific hours of the day, resulting in high demand over certain periods. This phenomenon has led to inefficient gate operations that can spill traffic over to the surrounding roadway network causing serious safety and congestion problems. The problem of congestion also extends to the yard of the terminals where coupled with capacity issues, it can degrade the reliability and performance of carriers, shippers, and terminal operators. In addition to the deterioration of the performance of terminal and drayage operations, the environmental effects from idling trucks has also been starting to emerge as a serious problem as truck emissions have been linked to health conditions including asthma, cancer and heart disease (Solomon and Bailey 2004). Since intermodal freight terminals tend to be located in or near major cities, where right of way is limited and very expensive, implementing operational strategies to reduce the effect of the terminals' truck related traffic on the surrounding roadway network and the terminal operations becomes more important and more viable than physical capacity expansions. Because of this, there is much research focusing on improving efficiency in the operations of intermodal marine container terminals without having to expand physical capacity. Below are a few of the lessons learned in this research:
  • Coordinate between trucking companies and port intermodal terminals for efficient terminal operations. Gates that are clogged can worsen terminal capacity and this creates not only an operational but also an environmental problem. For a tactical/operational level gate strategy system to be effective, a large percentage of trucks will have to use it, and there has to be some priority or benefit for trucks with appointments. Incentives are necessary to get trucking companies to buy into appointment systems and actually make appointments (and keep them). Incentives may also be needed for the terminals to use the systems effectively. Gate appointments are a more favored alternative than extended gate hours, since the cost is lower.
  • Deploy and expand gate appointment systems. Gate appointment systems have the potential to dramatically improve operations inside the terminal as well as at the gate, and as a secondary result, reduce congestion on the roadway system, and therefore reduce harmful emissions in the neighboring communities. Of course, as freight shipping increases, there will be a point that limits the amount of trucks and containers that can physically be processed within the constraints of terminal boundaries, but there is certainly room for improvement now, before reaching that point. For extended gate hours, additional workers are required at off-peak times, but this is a viable option to increase throughput at terminals. It will require that additional workers be added, hours and pay contracts be adjusted and associated businesses buy-in, but there is potential for greater amounts of container movement without the need to expand terminals.
Increased efficiency at intermodal port terminals due to any or all of the strategies discussed in this paper can affect the overall transportation community and all other types of intermodal transportation by allowing more containers to be shipped, and moved more quickly away from the ports, onto the other forms of transportation, and to their final destinations. Appointment systems and extended hours, as well as the managing technologies can be used by other modes experiencing congestion and air quality concerns to increase efficiency, thereby lowering congestion and emissions. The key to developing effective gate appointment systems is to ensure participation from all key stakeholders.

This report, finalized in May 2010, is an assessment of research focusing on strategies that are useful in reducing congestion at intermodal marine container terminals. These findings along with the lessons learned provide a valuable resource to those considering the implementation of strategies for improved intermodal marine container terminal operations.

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Relieving Congestion at Intermodal Marine Container Terminals: Review of Tactical/Operational Strategies

Author: Maguire, A., et al

Source Date: 5/25/2010

URL: http://www.trforum.org/forum/downloads/2010_161_Relieving_Congestion_Marine_Terminals_Strategies.pdf

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Dawn Hardesty


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Lesson ID: 2013-00652