Small shippers targeted for new Mexico rail services
Hugh R. Morley, Senior Editor | Apr 10, 2019 4:45PM EDT
Ferromex turned to COFC Logistics for help in expanding capacity on its after seeing a 40 percent spike in demand. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.
Smaller shippers looking for alternative services in Mexico amid rising cargo volumes and tightening capacity will soon have the option to send cargo on two independent intermodal services along the country’s main rail lines.
Ohio-based intermodal provider COFC Logistics next week will launch a six-days-a-week ramp-to-ramp service moving 53-foot containers from Pantaco, in Mexico City, to Mexicali, at the western end of the United States-Mexico border, in an agreement with Ferromex. The railroad said cargo volume on the route increased by 40 percent in 2018 from the year before.
The second service, from Pantaco to Monterrey, will run five days a week, on lines operated by Kansas City Southern of Mexico. Both routes will stop at the Ferrovalle Inland Terminal, in Mexico City, one of the largest inland terminals in the country.
KCS said the Pantaco-Monterrey route is its first dedicated domestic route in Mexico, with all its other routes tied to imports or exports, and “market feedback has so far been encouraging.” The railroad said it began offering the service last year, with a third-party logistics provider and a trucking company also using the route, but COFC will bring additional equipment to the table.
Meeting a demand
The Mexicali route will mainly serve goods going north across the US border that are trucked to the Port of Los Angeles, or transloaded and moved by truck into California, Garry Old, CEO of COFC, told JOC.com. The company already has three customers lined up for the Mexicali route, with combined demand of about 300 containers per month, including beer, bottled water, and other finished goods, said Old. The company projects demand for about 250 containers a month on the Monterrey route.
Old said demand for the two services stems in part from shippers looking for alternative transportation routes amid the tight trucking market created by two Mexican government rules that took effect last year. One limited the number of hours that a truck driver can be behind the wheel, and the other required that all double tractor trailers be certified with the government. The rules also required that double trailers, known as “fulles” in Mexico, must conform to certain safety requirements. As in the United States, trucking capacity in Mexico is further strained by a driver shortage.
Transportation executives said that new hours-of-service regulations alone reduced capacity by a double-digit percentage and pushed up trucking rates, with some users reporting increases of as much as 10 percent. The capacity situation could worsen as the Mexican government ramps up enforcement of the rules.
Ferromex turned to COFC for help in expanding capacity on the Pantaco-Mexicali route after seeing a 40 percent spike in demand, fueled in part by the lack of available trucking capacity, Luis Hernandez, vice president of intermodal for Ferromex, told JOC.com. In addition, while the railroad already has 2,800 containers on the route, it had no spares to meet additional demand, and using COFC’s services enabled the railroad to ramp up capacity swiftly and avoid any delays associated with buying new containers, he said.
The customer-railroad agreement also will enable COFC to serve small to medium-sized businesses, which are generally not the focus of Ferromex’s strategy, as most of the railroad’s capacity is taken up serving its 15 largest customers, Hernandez said.
“Our goal is to work with the small to midsize intermodal marketing companies [IMCs] that are based in Mexico to give them an opportunity to move via rail,” Old said. “A lot of the small and midsize IMCs have not had access to move anything on the rail.”
The cost of moving a container from Pantaco to Mexicali on the new COFC service is about 27,000 pesos ($1,431), about the same as Ferromex charges, compared with about 40,000 to 50,000 pesos ($2,120 to $2,650) by truck, COFC said. The move would take between four and four-and-a-half days by train and two-and-a-half days by truck, the company said. The move from Pantaco to Monterrey, costing 10,000 pesos ($530), would take three to four days, compared with one day by truck, he said.
Providing container flexibility
For the Monterrey route, KCS of Mexico approached COFC. The railroad has the right to run trains on the route, but presently doesn’t do so with intermodal trains, and the cargo at first will be moved on “manifest trains,” or those with a mixture of boxcars, tankers, and intermodal units, Old said.
Most containers go by truck between Pantaco and Monterrey, amounting to about 10,000 moves a year, and COFC’s routes — aside from providing an alternative — give companies flexibility, he said.
“It gives shippers the ability, let’s say in Monterrey, to have one of our containers in their yard and they can load it either domestically down to Mexico City or they could load it cross border into the US,” he said. “We’ve also been approached by a couple of large trucking companies that have business moving in that lane that they’re trying to either increase their business by offering a rail service or fill the pipeline with rail and use their drivers for the hotter stuff.”
COFC, founded in 2011, is an independent supplier of intermodal equipment and services, and serves 70 routes in the US. It owns about 1,500 53-foot containers and expects to double that number by July.
The company — which doesn’t work directly with BCOs, but instead serves IMCs, third-party logistics providers (3PLs), brokers, freight forwarders, trucking companies, and other intermediaries — started its first cross-border US-Mexico service in 2015, partnering with BNSF and Ferromex on a route to Silao in Central Mexico. COFC now offers service to Monterrey, Toluca, and San Luis Potosi.
Beto Vargas, the incoming president of the Mexican Association of Intermodal Transport (AMTI), highlighted the need for Mexico’s intermodal sector to target small and midsized shippers in a January interview with JOC.com. Larger shippers already use rail in Mexico, but smaller shippers tend not to due in part to a perception that rail is not reliable enough and the schedules are not frequent enough, he said.