Modern Transportation believes next year will bring increased transload opportunities

Jan. 6, 2017
Founded in March of 1987, Modern Transportation began with four trucks, transloading soda ash to a glass manufacturer 90 miles away near its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Over the last 30 years, Modern has developed a nationwide presence, leveraging transloading as a differentiator.

Founded in March of 1987, Modern Transportation began with four trucks, transloading soda ash to a glass manufacturer 90 miles away near its headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Over the last 30 years, Modern has developed a nationwide presence, leveraging transloading as a differentiator.

Executives at Modern Transportation see more transload activity coming over the next year. They are positioning the company for the anticipated upswing.

Transload shipments currently make up roughly 15% of the loads hauled by the Pittsburgh-based dry and liquid chemical bulk carrier. Volume is growing steadily at Modern Transportation’s five transload locations, and the company has plans to continue to expand its transload capabilities in the coming years.

“We’re very optimistic about all facets of our business, and that includes transloading of liquid and dry bulk materials,” says Patrick B Cozzens, president of Modern Transportation. “We have a strong history in transloading, and we have strong customer relationships.

“In 1987 a transload operator, Arrow Materials, a sister company to Modern, needed a carrier that could offer bulk delivery from a rail yard near Butler, Pennsylvania. That effort proved to be the foundation of Modern Transportation. That first transload shipper is still one of our largest customers.

“We have always worked closely with Arrow Material Services. Our shareholders capitalized on the energy market to sell a majority interest in Arrow to a private equity firm in 2015. We still maintain limited involvement with Arrow, working closely with them at their 37 transload facilities.

“As we move forward, we plan to partner with operators such as shortline railroads. We want to keep real estate ownership to a minimum and focus our attention on trucking, which is what we do best.”

Transload Terminals

In addition to its trucking operations, Modern also has time-tested transloading capabilities in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, central Pennsylvania; the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex, Van Wert, Ohio; and Provo, Utah. In total, the carrier has 24 terminals, most of which are in the eastern half of the United States.

In the beginning, transload cargoes were primarily granular industrial materials, such as sodium carbonate—the product that gave Modern Transportation its start in the late 1980s. By 2009, Modern Transportation was involved in transloading operations in the oil and gas shale plays. More recently, the carrier has expanded into transloading liquid chemicals.

“We anticipate transloading growth across all of these types of cargoes in the coming months,” Cozzens says. “Industrial minerals remain a strong part of our business, along with cement and fly ash. Oilfield activity has been rising as that industry recovers, and liquid chemicals show particular promise. We started hauling hydrochloric acid five years ago, and the chemical business has grown from there.”

Transload shipments typically are short trips. “We say transloading covers the last mile, and it is definitely a regional activity,” Cozzens says. “Our roots are in regional dedicated business, which makes us an ideal partner for our transload customers.”

On the dry bulk side, most of Modern Transportation’s dedicated hauls are in the 60- to 90-mile range. Three hundred miles is the maximum. Liquid shipments average 200 to 300 miles, with the maximum being 2,000 miles.

Growing Fleet

Modern Transportation serves its customers with a fleet that includes 340 tractors, including 75 owner-operators, 415 dry bulkers, and 100 chemical tankers. The carrier employs 389 drivers.

Not just any driver is assigned to transload operations. Tony Cutuli, Modern Transportation’s senior director of safety and risk management, says those selected for transloading tend to become specialists. “We provide specific training for transload operations, and we only allow those trained drivers to handle the transload shipments.”

Drivers operate transload equipment at sites run by Modern Transportation. However, loading is performed by facility personnel at third-party transload locations.

All drivers selected by Modern Transportation must be at least 24 years old and have a minimum of two years of truck driving experience over the past five years, preferable in a tractor-trailer rig. “Any driver we hire for tank trailer operations must have prior experience handling liquid loads. We recognize the enhanced skillsets required for liquid tanks and hold true to those standards when selecting candidates,” Cutuli says.

Driver selection

In the effort to find just the right professional truck drivers, Modern Transportation managers review a 10-year work history for each applicant. “We concentrate on the last five years, disqualifying those candidates who show reckless or careless driving citations, speeding violations, driving under the influence, distracted driving, and even seatbelt violations,” Cutuli says. “It’s all about putting the right people in our trucks.”

Since the carrier hires well-trained, experienced truck drivers, new-hire orientation may be relatively short. “Training is provided at the driver’s home terminal, and most of the time is spent with a driver trainer focusing upon the specific characteristics of the equipment and operation”, Cutuli says. “A driver will not be released for duty until he or she has been certified by a senior driver trainer.”

The initial training is backed up with a robust safety program that is directed by four corporate safety managers and further supported by senior driver trainers who are dispersed among the Modern Transportation fleet locations. Over the past year, Modern’s safety team has assured all of their drivers were trained in the Smith System of Defensive Driving.

“That training has enhanced a driver safety record that was already receiving high grades in the industry,” Cutuli says. “Incident rates are down, and we know that the Smith System training has contributed to that success.”

Monthly safety discussions are held at each Modern Transportation facility, presentations of which cover a wide range of topics. In addition to recent events involving Modern Transportation drivers, safety personnel may review relevant aspects of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, workplace injuries, fatigue management, and company policies. Some safety discussions include also a video.

Leased tractors

The focus on safety includes tractor and trailer specifications. PeopleNet on-board computers handle electronic driver logs. The newest tractors have roll stability and collision avoidance systems.

A majority of the company tractors are leased from major full-service lease providers. “We select full-service leases because they give us greater flexibility in our operation,” says Bob Smith, Modern Transportation’s senior director of equipment & maintenance. “We’re very good at trucking. We find it beneficial to minimize capital investment in rolling stock and leverage the fleet management skills and the maintenance infrastructure of the truck leasing companies.”

Mack and Volvo daycabs are the newest additions to the tractor fleet, but Modern also runs all other major manufacturers. While a majority of the tractors are Freightliner Cascadia daycabs, Modern Transportation also employs sleeper tractors for longer chemical hauls.

The newest tractors have 15-liter diesel engines rated at 455 horsepower and automated manual transmissions. Manual transmissions are specified for tractors operating in the dump and oilfield applications, by virtue of their off-road and terrain challenges. Modern has begun testing a 6x2 axle configuration for improved fuel efficiency, especially when the un-driven axle is lifted during empty backhauls, which are a major component of our dedicated business model.

Natural Gas

Since 2013, the carrier has been running natural gas fueled tractors. Of the 20 currently in the fleet, 15 are fueled with liquefied natural gas and five use compressed natural gas. All of the natural gas tractors have 12-liter Cummins Westport engines rated at 400 horsepower. Modern’s dedication to this alternate fuel source, particularly during a time of depressed diesel prices, speaks volumes to their commitment to sustainability and environmentally responsibility.

“We received the first 12-liter natural gas engines that were commercially available,” Cozzens says. “The trucks with the natural gas engines are application specific, and they run about 1,200 miles a day, as they are used on dedicated routes.

“Almost all of our dry bulk movements are dedicated hauls. We meet specific customer requirements and are anxious to work with our customers on innovative projects.

“The trucks have been a hit with our drivers. They are happy with the natural gas engines, which are quieter than diesel engines and are quick to refuel. Drivers also say their clothes don’t smell of diesel at the end of the shift.”

Trailer fleet

For product handling of dry bulk cargoes, Modern Transportation specifies Gardner Denver or Tuthill blowers. Tractors used to haul chemicals have remote mounted cast iron pumps and air compressors powered by hydraulics.

Manufactured by Heil Trailer International and MAC Trailer Manufacturing, most of the dry bulk trailers in the fleet are owned by Modern Transportation. Of the dry bulk trailers in the fleet, 223 are configured for gravity unload with 12-inch gate valves and 192 are unloaded pneumatically. For safety, the trailers have remote operated domelids from RMC Engineering and Bellseng. BTI is the preferred supplied of valves and other hardware on the trailers.

All of the 7,000-gallon, DOT407 chemical tankers are leased. Modern Transportation’s preferred tank trailer providers include Transport Resources, Global Tank Leasing LLC, Dana, and Jack Olsta Co.   ♦

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.