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Cargo Crisis: how delays at coastal ports and inland depots could affect you

Bottlenecks in the system land in Memphis and other inland depots. Containers stacked high are waiting to be moved.
Credit: WATN

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis may be known as "America's Distribution Center," but COVID-19 is cramping the Bluff City's style.

Local 24 News previously told you how congestion at ports on the east and west coast are causing delays, which is causing issues here in Memphis and several other inland cities.

At the Intermodal Cartage Group on Holmes Road, shipping containers are stacked up. Some are full of yet to be delivered products, others are empty waiting to be filled with exports or sent back overseas empty. 

Those who work in the supply chain industry said COVID-19 has dramatically slowed down the movement of these containers across the country.

"We've seen 17% to 22% of our capacity on a daily basis not running because of either exposed to COVID-19 or they have COVID-19, " said Joel Henry, IMCG President.

The Intermodal Cartage Company is one of the largest companies in the nation helping move product from coastal ports inland to cities like Memphis and then to their destination. Because of delays at coastal ports, cargo can sit for weeks before its loaded on a train. Once in Memphis, it may have to sit again until a truck driver can take it to its next destination.

"It's created tons of challenges and issues with the delivery cycle," said Henry.

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"Do I have a driver available? Do I have chassis? Is that freight green light ready? Can I even go get it or is it stacked up waiting to access that container?" said Donna Lemm, Executive VP of Sales, IMC.

Lemm said these are questions drayage and transport companies are routinely asking themselves during this COVID crisis. 

"This labor shortage has impacted everyone across the supply chain," said Lemm. "You have this surge of freight moving inland. It's not just Memphis - it's Memphis, Chicago, Dallas - all of your inland hubs are experiencing the same thing."

Lemm says the longer freight sits at coastal ports, the longer it takes to get inland, which can delay it being delivered to your front door.

"Costs are escalating. When you add congestion, you add delays, you add these wait times, and there is a cost to that ," said Lemm.

And it's the consumers that supply chain experts said in the long run may end up paying more.

"Somebody has to be responsible for these rising costs, and ultimately it's the consumer," said Lemm.

"Our drivers haven't missed a beat. They have been out picking up the cargo, exposing themselves, delivering cargo throughout the pandemic, and I'm so proud of them," said Henry.

Supply chain experts said this pandemic has only exacerbated problems that already existed in the system. Henry hopes freight slowdowns will end as more people get vaccinated. And he hopes the supply chain will return to normal.  

"Consumer and the domestic side is the final delivery, but what Amazon and other customers are waiting on is for product to get off loaded and inland, and delivered to their distribution center so they can make it to the consumer," said Henry. 

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