Port of Tacoma Tests Security Tracking System
The Port of Tacoma in the state of Washington is a major gateway to Asia and Alaska, and is among the largest container ports in North America, handling an estimated $36 billion in annual trade and about 2 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent container units). To improve domestic rail supply chain visibility, the Port of Tacoma is trying out a GPS tracking system that follows containers from the time they leave waterfront terminals until they reach their destinations in the Midwest and Eastern United States.
As the first GPS for tracking containers inland on rail from a U.S. port, the system allows Port of Tacoma intermodal planners to better comprehend inland rail concerns and, in the end, work with railroads and shippers to improve the speed and consistency of freight.
"We will be able to proactively work with our steamship and rail partners to plan for the future and make sure that Tacoma remains a high-velocity transit point in the global supply chain," said Rob Collins, Port of Tacoma Manager of Transportation and Supply Chain Planning.
Ocean carrier Yang Ming Line, BNSF Railway, and Safefreight Technology are all cooperating in the joint project.
Assumptions Proven Wrong by Tracking System
Since 2008, when the Port began testing the container tracking system, Collins says his team in the Port's dedicated Planning and Regional Transportation Department has learned much about what happens to containers after they leave the Tacoma waterfront. "People have assumptions about cargo scheduling, routing and delivery, but when you dig into the data, many of those assumptions may turn out to be false."
According to Collins, another advantage is that systems like Safefreight's could lead to greater intermodal supply chain security. "I have long felt that the most secure supply chain is the most visible supply chain," he said. "Moreover, this system illustrates when cargo is moving and when it is standing still. Cargo in motion is inherently more secure."
The tracking technology consists of a very rugged, five inch by three inch portable tracking device. The system uses GPS and wireless and internet technologies to provide helpful data related to location, speed, direction, starts, and stops. It transmits data wirelessly through cellular communications to a Safefreight server. The data is then made available to the Port over the web.
The device is equipped for containers so that it can run independently for weeks at a time. "In addition to power management, it was important that the Port had a solution that was highly ruggedized and configurable 'over-the-air' in order to minimize device upgrades and maintenance," he said.
By Adam Herschkowitz
Get Railroad Jobs, Contributing Editor