Waterways Journal Editorial
WJ Editorial

Container-On-Barge Set To Be More Important Than Ever

As you’ll read in this issue, a Marine Highway designation was just given by the Maritime Administration to the Missouri Department of Transportation along the Missouri River. The application to initiate a container-on-barge service was developed in partnership with AGRIServices of Brunswick, the largest multimodal transportation provider on the Missouri River.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw logistics into confusion last year, and it took a while for them to get sorted out. The economy surged this spring as vaccinations took hold, and everyone hoped we were getting back to normal after more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions. Then the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus hit. Many regions in the U.S. are now on their fourth wave of COVID. In some places, hospitalizations are at levels not seen for a year. 

All this has affected logistics again. Companies are beginning to realize there may not ever be a return to “normal.” Some are adjusting their supply chains accordingly. Among the knock-on effects of the pandemic has been a shortage of truck drivers. The trucking industry was already facing a retirement and recruitment crisis before COVID-19 hit, and restrictions have made it worse. Fuel costs are rising, and various fuel mandates are kicking in that will complicate shipping. 

Trade imbalances have caused container congestion and pile-ups of containers in some ports, while empties are being shipped back to China, stranding some U.S. agricultural cargoes.

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Supporters of COB are patient. They have become used to waiting as long as Chicago Cubs fans. All these events and complications are strengthening the arguments for COB (or container on vessel, the solution being pursued by American Patriot Holdings)—especially when you add in the interest in decarbonizing the transportation logistics chain.

This publication has covered and promoted container-on-barge for years. As MarAd says on its Marine Highway website, “… America’s waterways are underused. The benefits of using our marine waterways — such as reducing landside congestion and reducing system wear and tear — are not perceived on an individual level. Using our waterways more consistently would create more public benefits and incentivize shippers to use these critical transportation channels.”

COB works where there are suitable waterways. Thankfully, America has those in abundance. It’s not an all-purpose solution for all logistics problems, but we think it will be a significant part of tomorrow’s transportation solutions. As investments in COB begin to pay off and its advantages become more and more cost-effective, we are convinced it is still a wave of the future.