Innovation, diversification helping Service Transport find new growth opportunities

March 3, 2017
OVER the past year and a half, Service Transport Company completed a major renovation of its headquarters terminal that involved a 180-degree reorientation of the sprawling complex. Costing roughly $4 million, it was a major undertaking.

OVER the past year and a half, Service Transport Company completed a major renovation of its headquarters terminal that involved a 180-degree reorientation of the sprawling complex. Costing roughly $4 million, it was a major undertaking.

The project was prompted by a number of factors including a desire to be a good neighbor. South of Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas, is the largest in the Service Transport system and has served as the headquarters location since 1999.

“When our terminal was initially developed in the mid to late 1960s, this area was still little more than an oilfield on the southern edge of Hobby Airport,” says Jim Brown, president of Service Transport Company. “It was very rural. There were no homes or schools. Almeda-Genoa Road that runs along the south side of our terminal dead-ended at our front gate. 

“Over the years that all changed. Residential areas are all around us now. In 2014, a new elementary school was built across the street from the entrance to our terminal.

“A large number of children walk to school, and heavy-duty trucks and children don’t mix well, but our drivers have to be careful to operate safely at all times. We’ve never had even the slightest incident, but it simply wasn’t a safe situation.

Hard look

“About two years ago, we began taking a hard look at the future of Service Transport. In meetings with our parent company, we discussed what we wanted to do with the headquarters terminal and what sort of diversification opportunities might be appropriate for Service Transport.

“We gave serious thought to moving out of the area to a less-crowded location. However, we estimated that option would cost roughly $30 million based on the systems, services, and space we have available at the Almeda-Genoa location.

“In the end, we decided to stay where we are and find a way to move our truck entrance away from the school. We were able to buy an additional 4 ½ acres, giving us a total of 30 acres and the ability to shift our truck entrance to State Highway 35 (Telephone Road), which runs north/south along the west side of our property. We invested $4 million and about a year and a half in the project. That was significantly less than moving to a new location.

“Probably our biggest challenge was getting the permits for the project. We had to go through both the City of Houston and the Hobby Airport Authority. It was a lot of bureaucracy, and the permit process took half a year. We were told that was quick.”

The project included building a new gated entrance and a dispatch/customer service center next to the entrance. Three acres of concrete was poured for a half mile of new driveway and enough new parking to accommodate upwards of 300 trailers. The newly developed section of the terminal is three feet above road grade, making it very resistant to flooding.

“Our drivers are very happy with the changes we made—especially the new entrance that makes entering and exiting the terminal easier and safer,” Brown says. “We also upgraded security and communication capabilities. We have the ability at our Houston terminal dispatch center to monitor and control security at each of the other five terminals in our system. We use TMW Suite for dispatch and operations, as well as TMT software for maintenance shop and wash rack operations. We added more emergency generators to provide electricity for each building in the Houston terminal complex.

Built and improved over the course of roughly five decades, the Houston terminal offers a sophisticated range of services. Capabilities include a state-of-the-art four-bay tank wash rack, 16-bay maintenance shop, and a regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) that was upgraded two years ago. The RTO incinerates vapors from tank cleaning.

More services

More specialized services are coming soon. Brown says tank container depot and drayage capabilities will be added before the end of the first quarter of 2017.

“The extra acreage we added during the Houston terminal renovation helped give us the room we need for a tank container storage area,” he says. “We’re adding 40 to 50 tank container chassis, as well as a 30-ton empty lift. We already have plenty of tank cleaning and tank repair capability in place. Customers have been asking for the container depot services because we have relatively easy access to railroads and the Houston Ship Channel.

“This will be the latest move in diversification that was requested a couple of years ago by our parent company—Adams Resources and Energy Inc. Our board of directors is calling for more diversification, both internal and external.

“To that end, we added dry bulk capability a year ago primarily for plastics. We bought 12 self-loading pneumatic trailers and we are renting three. We’re also looking to acquire mid-sized and smaller fleets. We’re buying; we’re not for sale.

Houston isn’t the only location targeted for growth by Service Transport. The terminal in Corpus Christi, Texas recently moved to a larger facility with a maintenance shop. The other terminals are in Beaumont, Texas; St Gabriel and St Rose, Louisiana; and Saraland, Alabama.

Quality service

Dispersed among the terminals are 265 tractors and about 600 tank trailers. Operations are conducted throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Chemical hauling has been a primary focus, generating more than $60 million in annual revenue. The carrier uses statistical process control to help ensure that its customers receive the best possible service. The process covers safety and on-time deliveries. Participation in quality action teams in-house and special outside seminars with most of the top 10 to 15 accounts is part of a continuous improvement program that benefits Service Transport and customers alike.

In addition, Service Transport is a Responsible Care Partner. This association with the American Chemistry Council represents a solid commitment to health, safety, and environmental issues surrounding the chemical industry.

The commitment to quality includes running a fleet of tractors and trailers that are designed and maintained to provide safe, reliable service. “We keep a close watch on operating costs across the fleet, and we are continually refining vehicle specifications,” Brown says.

The tractor fleet includes Internationals, Volvos, Macks, and Peterbilts. “We have bought a variety of tractor makes based on factors that include reliability, fuel economy, and pricing,” says Mike Leggio, Service Transport vice-president of operations.

The most recent purchases were for International ProStars and Freightliner Cascadias. The tractors were specified with proprietary engines rated at about 450 horsepower and automated transmissions. “We believe the automated transmissions help attract younger drivers,” Leggio says.

Safety equipment on the newest tractors includes the Bendix Wingman Fusion system with forward and side scanning radar. A forward-looking video camera captures data from speed limit signs that is fed into the Wingman Fusion system. All of the tractors in the fleet are equipped with PeopleNet on-board computers for managing electronic driver logs.

For product handling, tractors are specified with Paragon’s HydraChem system that includes a product pump, compressor, and hydraulic oil cooler in a compact package. Sixteen tractors also have a Paragon blower and are able to handle dry bulk cargoes as well as liquid chemicals.

Recent trailer purchases included 30 insulated stainless steel chemical trailers built by Brenner Tank and Polar Tank Trailer Inc. The typical DOT407 general chemical trailer in the fleet has a 7,000-gallon capacity. A large number of the tank trailers in the fleet were built with special equipment, including dessicant dryer systems, specifically for isocyanates.

The newest trailers in the fleet are 12 J&L Tank pneumatic self-loading dry bulkers that are being used to transport plastic pellets. The 1,636-cu-ft trailers have all BTI hardware, including butterfly valves and tees. Dual fill lines keep drivers off the tops of the tanks.

Riteway digital scales help prevent overloading of the bulkers. Hendrickson Intraax axle/suspension systems were specified with the Tiremaax tire inflation management system. ♦

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.