Friday, February 06, 2009

Rail/truck partnership marks 20 years

Written by 

The intermodal partnership that began with a simple handshake between railroader Mike Haverty and trucker J.B. Hunt marked its 20th anniversary yesterday.

“Twenty years ago today, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. and BNSF predecessor Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company loaded a Hunt trailer onto a railcar and ushered in the modern age of intermodal freight transport,” BNSF noted yesterday. “Today, intermodal is one of the most efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly ways to move goods. Twenty years ago, trucks and trains were more competitors than partners. All that changed in 1989 when Santa Fe and J.B. Hunt Transport came together in a move that would lead the industry in innovation.”

Haverty, then an executive with Santa Fe, conducted a demonstration in 1988 for J.B. Hunt, attaching an intermodal flat car to a Santa Fe business car on an inspection trip out of Chicago. Hunt, a hard-boiled, cigar-chomping trucking magnate, was impressed with the flat car’s ride quality. According to Haverty, Hunt extended his hand and said, “Let’s do a deal.”

Several months later, the joint effort started with 150 trailers and five railcars moving freight between Chicago and California. It grew quickly. “Today, BNSF and J.B. Hunt provide transportation solutions throughout North America,” said Steve Branscum, BNSF vice president, Consumer Products. “In 2008, more than 700,000 shipments were moved through this strategic transportation alliance. When the partnership started, no one could have imagined the effect it would have on the industry. Once thought of as experimental, intermodal today offers shippers innovative, efficient, and value-added services that allow them to effectively compete, both domestically and worldwide.”

J.B. Hunt died just a few years ago, and Mike Haverty went on to run the Kansas City Southern and create the “NAFTA Railway” by acquiring a major portion of Mexico’s national railway when it was privatized in 1997. The partnership they forged two decades ago continues to thrive. J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. last year began shifting more freight to containers, running it cross-country on doublestack freight trains, further reinforcing the advantages of rail over long-haul trucking.