CTL tank trailer

CTL Transportation remakes itself as a more diversified chemical hauler with a broader operating range

May 5, 2016
OVER the last four years CTL Transportation LLC has undergone an incredible transformation. And the process continues for the Auburndale, Florida-based company.

OVER the last four years CTL Transportation LLC has undergone an incredible transformation. And the process continues for the Auburndale, Florida-based company.

A subsidiary of Comcar Industries, the 52-year-old tank truck carrier transitioned from supporting the phosphate industry in Central Florida to a diversified $40 million chemical hauler with a national focus. More than 75% of its operations are now outside of Florida.

Operations are especially strong across the Southeast and Gulf Coast, where a majority of CTL Transportation’s 10 terminals are located. Dispersed throughout the terminal network are the carrier’s 180 tractors and 240 tank trailers.

“In a sense, we have become a hybrid chemical hauler with short-haul, regional, and long-haul capability,” says Joseph J Morrissey, CTL Transportation president and chief executive officer. “We have upwards of 100 loads a week moving longhaul. We want to keep our trucks moving and keep them loaded. We have a 75% loaded ratio right now, and it is increasing.

“Whether it is local, regional, or long-haul cargo, we have the ability to meet the needs of our chemical-industry customers. We are a hazardous materials specialist, and 85% of our loads are hazmat. As a Responsible Care Partner, we provide our customers with what we believe are some of the best trained and safest hazmat drivers in the industry. We have a lean management team with just 33 employees in non-driving roles.

“We are running one of the youngest tractor fleets in the industry, with most of the vehicles under 15 months old with an average age of seven months. These tractors are equipped with the latest in safety technology and are maintained in-house at our own network of maintenance shops.”

Core strengths

Azalia Tennis, CTL Transportation’s vice-president of Gulf Coast operations, adds that the carrier’s strong driver network, central dispatch, and lean management team has helped attract a diversified customer base. It is certainly a growing customer base.

“Even with the general slowness in the trucking market at the beginning of this year, January and February were two really good months for us,” Tennis says. “Looking forward, we believe there is plenty of reason for optimism, especially along the Gulf Coast. Numerous chemical plant expansions are coming on line over the next couple of years, and we should see significant incremental growth. We definitely believe CTL Transportation is in the right place for growth.”

The broader chemical market was never a consideration when the trucking company that became CTL was founded in 1964 with a sole focus on agricultural chemicals—especially phosphates mined in central Florida for use in fertilizer. Based initially in Tampa, Florida, the carrier later moved to Mulberry, Florida, in the heart of the phosphate mining and processing operations.

By 1974, Karel Konicek had been named president of the tank truck carrier. Konicek is particularly noteworthy as an engineer for Butler Manufacturing Co, because he played a significant role in developing the pneumatic dry bulker that is in widespread use today for a wide range of products. Konicek also developed the combo trailer that includes a hopper for phosphate and a cargo tank for molten sulfur.

Comcar acquisition

The specialized trailer fleet was a big selling point for Comcar, which purchased CTL in 1985 and reorganized it as CTL Distribution Inc. At its peak, CTL’s phosphate operation employed more than 200 drivers, who kept more than 100 tractors running 24/7 hauling loads between central Florida and the Port of Tampa.

“Much of that phosphate was destined for export,” Morrissey says. “Better than 50% of CTL’s revenue came from the phosphate business, and we were primarily an intrastate carrier. We had very few loads going to other states.

“In recent years, the phosphate industry underwent significant consolidation, and our involvement began to shrink. With the decline of the phosphate business, we realized we needed to make some major changes.”

CTL began a major marketing push into the broader chemical market. Last year, the carrier became an American Chemistry Council Responsible Care Partner Company sponsored by Dow Chemical Company and Solvay. CTL should complete its Responsible Care certification before the end of 2016.

“We are a chemical hauler today, and we believe it is important to maintain Responsible Care certification,” Morrissey says. “This is something that helps amid-sized bulk carrier differentiate itself from like-sized competition. It is helping us to pull away from the old phosphate hauling mindset, and it is a reflection of where we are going today.

“We now transport a full range of chemicals, and a majority of that business is outside Florida. We don’t handle any dry bulk, and we don’t haul foodgrade products. We are purely a chemical hauler.”

The carrier hauls industrial and specialty chemicals. “Our legacy cargoes were acids, caustic, sulfur, and bleach, and we still haul a lot of that,” Morrissey says. “Diversification has brought coatings, resins, base oils, solutions, and water treatment products.”

Service area

CTL offers nationwide service, but most operations take place in the eastern half of the United States. “Our main operating area today is the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast,” Morrissey says. “Our terminal footprint runs north as far as St Louis (Missouri) and Cincinnati (Ohio).”

The fleet operates out of 10 CTL terminals, including three that are shared with other Comcar operations. Four CTL terminal locations are leased from commercial wash rack operators: Express Container Service in Morrow (Atlanta), Georgia, and Houston, Texas; Tank Trailer Cleaning in East St Louis, Illinois; and Premier Container Services in Angleton (Freeport), Texas.

Fleet operations are directed by CTL’s central dispatch office at the carrier’s Tampa terminal. Fleet management is facilitated by McLeod dispatch software and Omnitracs on-board computers that provide communications with dispatchers and handle electronic driver logs.

Key dispatcher responsibilities are to keep the equipment loaded and the drivers busy. In the CTL system, any driver can handle local, regional, or longhaul movements. Drivers make just a two-week commitment to shift from shorthaul to longhaul, but it gives them an opportunity for a quick boost in income while giving the company capacity flexibility.

Driver force

Keeping CTL’s trucks manned with drivers is the responsibility of parent company Comcar Industries, which handles driver recruiting and screening for all of the fleet operations. Other shared services include human resources, fleet maintenance, accounting, and legal services.

Based on requests from CTL terminal managers, Comcar recruiters select drivers meeting CTL requirements—which include minimum age of 21 and in possession of a valid commercial driver license with tanker and hazardous materials endorsements and a Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC).

Truck driver applicants are examined closely in a 60-step hiring process. Standards are so high that only 1% to 2% of the applicants are hired. Comcar officials point out that each applicant’s work history is reviewed in detail, and the vetting process includes a criminal background check. Functional capacity testing is required to ensure applicants have the physical ability to perform the job.

Just 30% of the drivers hired already have tank truck experience, according to Su Melchiorre, CTL vice-president of safety services. In addition, the company is hiring increasing numbers of drivers just out of truck driving schools.

Training program

With its driver-training program, CTL is finding it relatively easy to integrate these drivers into its system. New hires are sent to CTL’s Tampa or St Gabriel, Louisiana, terminals for a three-day orientation, followed by three days of CTL’s Advanced Driver Training Program (ADTP).

Classes typically have two to three students. The three-day orientation includes the DOT physical, drug screen, and agility testing. Instructors Joan Pfeiffer and Tony Passafiume cover DOT-mandated training and company policies.

During the three-day ADTP training that follows, driver trainers work one-on-one with new hires to improve backing skills and the pre-trip/post-trip inspection process. “Most of our driving incidents occur during backing, and this training has cut those incidents by more than half,” Melchiorre says.

Drivers fresh out of truck driving school spend at least another four weeks with a driver trainer. “We want to make sure they are comfortable with the equipment and can perform the job reliably before we send them out on their own,” Melchiorre says.

These initial weeks of training are just the beginning for CTL drivers. Ninety days after going to work for the carrier, new hires are given a one-day skills evaluation by a certified driver trainer.

“We have found that after 90 days, new hires can become a little complacent,” Melchiorre says. “We also see a return of complacency after around 18 months. During the reviews, our driver trainers look at how the new hires are performing, and we identify and address any issues. We schedule additional retraining as needed.

“Retraining is mandated after a safety event, and driver trainers also handle periodic performance improvement training. Each driver goes through the improvement training twice a year, and sessions last four hours to a full day. We are always working with our drivers to help them work as safely as possible.”

To provide the necessary training, CTL has at least two certified driver trainers per terminal with a total of 31 across the system. Drivers can be recommended for the program by their terminal manager or they can submit a request for consideration to the safety department.

Randy Dieter, CTL manager of safety and training, interviews each candidate by phone. “We’re always looking for more driver trainers, and we want individuals who can be held to a higher standard,” he says. “We’ve had good luck finding the right people.”

To qualify for the program, a driver must have at least one year of experience driving for CTL with a good safety record with good hours-of-service compliance and no preventable incidents or accidents. “Our ideal candidate needs patience and good communication ability,” he says. “His first priority must be that he wants to train other drivers. It doesn’t appeal to everyone.”

Those selected as certified driver trainers complete two days of initial one-on-one training with Pfeiffer or Passafiume. Annual recertification also is required.

Quarterly breakfast safety meetings at each terminal address driver issues along with other safety concerns. Each meeting is conducted by safety department staffers and includes PowerPoint presentations, as well as hands-on training when applicable.

Safety audits

Driver performance gets regular attention during DOT-style safety audits that are performed across the Comcar organization every nine months by a retired US DOT officer. “The audits are to make sure all of the Comcar operations are meeting or exceeding DOT regulations,” Melchiorre says. “It’s part of wanting to be the best. We take special pride that CTL has one of the best safety records within the bulk industry and within Comcar Industries group. These audits are part of an effort to send a consistent safety message.”

The safety department’s involvement in the CTL operation goes well beyond the drivers. The safety department also is involved in preventive maintenance compliance and critical event reporting through the Omnitracs and Bendix Wingman Advanced technology that includes collision avoidance and roll stability systems specified on all of the tractors.

Critical events include a hard braking rate in excess of nine miles per hour, according to Melchiorre. Alerts go to the terminal manager, driver manager, vice-president of operations, vice-president of safety services, and Comcar officials. The driver receives an alert message to call the safety department.

“The terminal manager contacts the driver, and usually will schedule a test ride.” Melchiorre says. “We determine what additional training is needed.”

In addition to the Bendix Wingman Advanced, the newest Mack Pinnacle tractors in the CTL fleet were specified with Mack MP8 engines rated at 475 horsepower and mDrive automated transmissions. Governors limit the maximum speed of the trucks, which are currently set at either 62 or 65 miles per hour, with 65 slowly becoming the new standard. Most of the tractors have 70-inch sleepers.

Product handling equipment includes Roper pumps and Holset 32-cfm compressors. Product hoses and fittings are stored in Sturdy-Lite aluminum cabinets mounted behind the cab. Product hoses are supplied by Hart Industries.

CTL hauls a wide range of chemicals in a diverse tank trailer fleet. Stainless steel general chemical DOT407 tanks with a 7,000-gallon capacity account for 75% of the trailers in the fleet. Most of the rest are DOT412 stainless steel trailers with a 4,500-gallon capacity. Tank hardware includes Betts valves and domelids and Girard pressure-relief vents.

The trailer fleet was specified with a wide range of running gear, including suspensions from Hutch, Reyco, and Fruehauf. Some of the newer trailers were specified with Hendrickson’s air suspension system. About 65% of the trailer fleet has the PSI tire inflation management system, which CTL has been specifying since the 1990s. Steel wheels are used throughout the fleet for uniformity.

CTL also operates a number of customer-owned tank trailers that are used for specialized products such as hydrogen peroxide and hydrofluoric acid.

Today’s CTL is a bulk carrier with a strong southern footprint bringing solid value to chemical shippers. As a mid-sized tank truck carrier, CTL is very nimble and can bring its customers capacity scale, deployment speed, and service and safety consistency.

The carrier has evolved far beyond the central Florida phosphate industry that defined its operations for nearly a half a decade. Today, CTL’s focus is on building partnerships with chemical shippers across the United States.   ♦ 

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.