Tank truck industry keeps wheels turning despite crippling blackout

Aug. 15, 2003
Despite the power blackout that crippled the Northeast and the upper part of the Midwest August 14-15, the tank truck industry appears to have stayed

Despite the power blackout that crippled the Northeast and the upper part of the Midwest August 14-15, the tank truck industry appears to have stayed the course. Although there were inconveniences, carriers told Modern Bulk Transporter operations were back on track.

"The recent power outage in major Northeast cities was a true test for our dispatch procedures and our technology," said Randy Sheeler, Quality Carriers senior vice-president, operations. "While power was out and most cellular towers inoperable, we immediately turned to Qualcomm to begin communicating with our drivers. Loads were tendered electronically to the tractor, and the satellite signal from our corporate headquarters in Tampa FL to our drivers was unaffected. Central scheduling had the ability to view loads in each terminal's computer and determine whether the load was sent to the truck electronically, and whether the driver received the order.

"We kept drivers aware of delays and alternative routes that had to be taken. Loading and unloading were affected. The ability to get fuel, as well as border delays for all shipments going in and out of Canada, hindered our ability to perform. However, our drivers were made aware of all updates via a broadcast message by Qualcomm."

Other carriers report similar responses about the use of modern communication systems to offset problems. The cell phone proved to be a boon for many operations where electricity was out.

Trimac Transportation Services is coping, according to Barry Davy, senior vice-president. "Power was out at a number of our terminal locations in both Canada and the United States. Most are restored, although it is not guaranteed that it is going to stay on. It has obviously impacted telephone communications, but we are managing with cell phones. Drivers are all safe and accounted for, but both shippers and consignees premises are also impacted, and so we have some drivers holding where they are at present until we get an all clear."

Stephen Rush, president of Carbon Express and Rush Logistics, noted his company's proximity to New York City and the repercussions as a result. "Our office is located just outside of the area that was most affected," he says. "We have, however, experienced several cancellations and numerous delays from customers located in the blackout area. Things seem to be coming back to normal as the day wears on. All things considered it could have been a lot worse."

In Canton OH, John Matheos, sales and marketing manager for Peoples Services Inc, reported that the carrier and its transloading facilities were down for about four hours after the blackout began, but were able to contact their major accounts to notify them. "There have been no service issues," he said.

As for financial consequence, Martin Labbe of Martin Labbe & Associates said he thinks there will be little adverse effect. "I doubt there are any log book violations being issued during this period," he pointed out, adding "Deliveries can still be made since cell phones and most regular phones are in service. Fuel delivery to most gas stations is on a scheduled basis. Since the pumps do not need to operate to make deliveries, I doubt there will be a problem."

On the shipper side of the industry, at least one chemical company has interrupted its operations. NOVA Chemicals, based in Pittsburgh PA, shut down its plants in Painesville OH and in Canada at Corunna, Mooretown, Sarnia, and St Clair River Site, all in Ontario. According to the company, the plants will remain down pending stabilization of electrical power. The shutdowns will result in some loss of production. NOVA Chemicals is in the process of conducting equipment assessments to confirm the financial impact and a plan for the safe start-up of its operations.

Refineries in Michigan and Ohio, and in Ontario, Canada, have been forced to shut down operations, according to news reports. Estimates of production loss total 750,000 barrels per day.