- J.B. Hunt will work with BNSF to grow intermodal capacity and increase efficiency at terminals, the companies said in a joint announcement Wednesday.
- J.B. Hunt will grow its intermodal fleet to as many as 150,000 containers over the next three to five years, a more than 40% increase from the end of 2021. The carrier will also "add supporting chassis based on market need," according to the release.
- BNSF, meanwhile, is offering multiple properties around key intermodal hubs in Southern California, Chicago and other markets to improve terminal throughput. The railroad will also boost its railcar equipment as part of the initiative to prepare for an anticipated increase in container capacity.
As shippers contend with congestion and high rates in the trucking industry, J.B. Hunt sees "tremendous pent-up demand to convert highway freight to intermodal," Shelley Simpson, chief commerical officer and executive vice president of people and HR, said on the company's Q4 earnings call.
But disrupted rail service has put pressure on capacity, offsetting improvements in truck equipment turn times.
"Over the past few years, intermodal has been disrupted by increased demand and tight capacity, resulting in poor container velocity and long dwell times," John Roberts, president and CEO of J.B. Hunt, said in a statement. "Together, J.B. Hunt and BNSF will enhance their work to bring back the consistency and reliability customers expect with intermodal services and further embrace intermodal conversion and transloading services."
The two companies have already begun collaborating on how to optimize flows and manage capacity using BNSF or J.B. Hunt-owned properties near key facilities in Southern California and Chicago. The work in those areas "will serve as a framework for systemwide optimization efforts," BNSF spokesperson Ben Wilemon said in an emailed statement.
BNSF also plans to expand intermodal facilities this year as part of an effort to grow parking availability and maximize capacity. The railroad will add 1,100 parking stalls at its Alliance Intermodal Facility in North Texas and 400 additional parking stalls at its Cicero Intermodal Facility in Chicago. The railroad also plans to bring an additional 1,250 double-stacked cars into service this year capable of handling around 2,500 containers.
"At this point, we are in position to move several thousand more units per week than are currently being loaded directly at the ports on to rail, so we believe increasing rail use should be a key part of the nation’s greater logistics solution," Wilemon said.
The collaboration shows the two companies are deepening their relationship after J.B. Hunt competitor Schneider announced in January that it would move its primary intermodal business in the western U.S. from BNSF to Union Pacific. The partnership will give Schneider the largest drayage fleet with company drivers of any intermodal carrier hauling with Union Pacific, according to a statement.