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U.S. Container Congestion Update

The widespread congestion at U.S. ports, rails and terminals has remained heavy, as operators continuously work to dig themselves out from record dwell times.

Port sources expect that the Los Angeles-Long Beach ports will begin to recover in March, as the lull from Chinese New Year begins to hit the West Coast. As soon as there is some relief felt on the West Coast, the rest of the U.S. should begin to normalize. However, at this time, the congestion remains extreme, as all containerized activity in the U.S. feels the effects of the recent surge of activity.

The current situation was brought on by importers and manufacturers front-loading ahead of the planned Trump administration tariffs. This has resulted in a huge increase in volume and ocean carriers have deployed 34 extra loader vessels since November. This, coupled with extreme weather conditions, limited terminal container storage capacity, limited rail capacity, chassis shortage, labor shortage and rail shortage, has created a level of congestion that has not been seen in the U.S. in many years.

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA), which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, reported this week that container dwell times at the terminals averaged 4.32 days, in the month of January. The report states, “That is the longest average dwell time reported since PMSA began tracking data in May 2016.”

Harsh weather conditions in the Midwest and along the Eastbound rail corridor from the West Coast have added higher than expected volumes on the rail and in Chicago, which has aggravated the already extreme congestion that has been experienced in the region. As a result, many terminals continue to institute gate restrictions, which limits the movement of containers in and out of the terminals. This in turn impacts the ability to out gate containers in a timely manner.

The ports of New York and New Jersey are also facing the same issues seen on the West Coast and the Midwest. Challenged with a heavy container backlog, these terminals have also instituted gate restrictions and are experiencing serious delays.