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By the time the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 rolled around a century later, however, the railroad's relevance as a mass means for moving non-commodity freight had waned considerably. Over the past 30 years, the rail industry has made great strides re-inventing itself within a 21st-century supply chain defined by efficiency, economy, and sustainability—all hallmarks of today's railroads. Railex, which began operations in 2006, is a transportation company moving in a 3PL direction. The winery had explored rail transportation before, but never found the appropriate circumstances or partner to meet its stringent requirements. Careful attention to temperature control and handling during warehousing and intermodal transport helps ensure the quality of Ste.
In previous test runs, the rigors of intermodal transit resulted in bottle scuffing and product damage. But the winery's business was growing, and it needed a partner to manage its transportation and logistics. Railex proved to be up to the task, providing reliable and secure five-day service from Wallula to Rotterdam. The 3PL only recently re-entered the domestic market after a 10-year absence following ocean carrier NOL's acquisition of its steamship line and divestiture of the intermodal business. APL handles half a million intermodal loads annually, including 100,000 automotive moves between the United States and Mexico, so getting back into the U.S. In the first quarter of 2012, domestic intermodal container volume increased 14.9 percent year-over-year, according to the Intermodal Association of North America's Intermodal Market Trends and Statistics report. In 2011, intermodal container volume set a new record with 12.4 million moves, surpassing 2007's record year by nearly four percent. Over the past five years, international and domestic intermodal traffic has grown steadily overall, despite the recession. While some shippers foreign to intermodal are still cautious, there are also reasons for optimism.
Improved service levels, the environmental benefits of converting truck to rail, and the availability of capacity are all intermodal drivers. Intermediaries such as Railex and APL Logistics understand the value of pushing more freight onto the tracks, as well as their importance in liaising between railroads, shippers, and truckers. Some companies are looking to locate even closer to intermodal ramps so they can radically reduce trucking costs. This type of exposure is having a sea-change effect within the transportation and logistics sector. The change in industry's perception of intermodalism is pervasive enough that the only pockets of resistance Lanigan sees among shippers tend to be generational—people who were around 15 to 25 years ago and had a negative experience in intermodal's early days.

Industry has come a long way in mediating the complexity of moving freight between modes and ensuring visibility through interchanges. This steam engine locomotive is a completely imaginary mock up of a train as would be acceptable by my own children.
It was no longer symbolic of an industrial and cultural awakening; rather, it became an indictment of an archaic and constrained mode of transport that had been quickly passed by a freewheeling motor freight industry. In addition to moving product by rail, it also stores inventory and arranges truck transportation—which is especially convenient for Ste.
Michelle was transporting approximately two million cases per year by truck, in 10 to 15 loads daily. More telling, it can squeeze three times as much wine on a train than a truck, which provides considerable sustainability gains in terms of reducing fuel use and carbon emissions.
Michelle's patience in waiting for the right opportunity to come along before it made the switch to intermodal has served the company well. APL Logistics continued to invest in and develop intermodal capabilities elsewhere around the world, and by 2011, the time was right to get back into the U.S. Over the past five years, international and domestic growth has progressed at a steady clip, despite the recession (see chart, below). For example, on-time delivery times are becoming more competitive with trucks in certain lanes. Michelle's trigger was recognizing it could transport product across the United States more economically and sustainably without sacrificing quality. Michelle benefits by being able to deliver product closer to customers via rail, reducing the last-mile dray. Michelle expects Railex to eventually take care of special projects, such as export orders that require compliance labeling. For example, BNSF Railway's Next Generation Intermodal service provides a platform for trucking companies and shippers to work together more collaboratively. Lanigan cites retailers that move a high volume of low-value product and can pad the bottom line by using rail. As more well-known brands make the jump, they raise the profile of intermodal solutions, making them an easier sell for carriers such as BNSF Railway. At the outset, it was a uniform system to mediate time differences across the United States, and build reliability into an erratic and rapidly expanding rail network. Supply chains have become more sophisticated in accurately forecasting and responding to demand. In the wine industry, every ounce of attention and detail helps ensure the product's quality remains uncompromised from source to cellar to sommelier.

If it's too cold, certain wines produce sediment or tartrate fallout; conversely, too much heat can push the cork and oxidize the wine. It also has the ability to switch between intermodal and truck transport, as it plans to do in the Pacific Northwest per promises to customers.
That its partnership with Railex has moved beyond a functional need and now allows it to grow more organically on its own is an added bonus.
Intermodal also provides a security blanket as looming capacity concerns threaten transportation economy and efficiency. Michelle's Columbia Crest winery, providing a relatively short truck haul by West Coast standards. Craft supply retailer Michaels Stores, for example, has a major distribution center near BNSF Railway's intermodal facility in Fort Worth.
In turn, this flexibility allows for longer transportation moves, making time slightly less relevant.
Railex's service can transport the equivalent of 220 trucks of refrigerated merchandise coast-to-coast in five days. With pre-determined temperature thresholds in place, it can be alerted if conditions change. Railex can move shipments via truck out of its Rotterdam facility instead of sending them to the West Coast for re-distribution. Michelle's direct-to-consumer business, because it is already tasked with storing inventory and building orders. Cost and capacity are critical flashpoints, so shippers are willing to trade lead times for space availability at a lower price.
All these functions are currently performed on- site at the winery's Columbia Crest facility. They also recognize the advantages they can gain by pairing over-the-road flexibility with longer-haul economy. Ample opportunities exist for shippers and consignees to leverage the economy of rail transport—whether it's converting truckloads to railcars, or expediting containers in and out of congested cities and ports. Past misconceptions about rail are now largely muted as industry moves toward an intermodal tipping point.

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