International marine container volumes have surged over the last
several decades, but North American ports and their supporting container
distribution networks have struggled to increase capacity to match this
expansion. This article seeks to review and organize existing container
network capacity literature into a taxonomy based on the interrelated
stakeholders of container flows. The article first establishes the
industry capacity situation, then examines research of capacity
influences from stakeholders, including port authorities, terminal
operators, longshore labor, shippers, railroads, drayage carriers,
intermediaries, ocean carriers, governments, and local communities.
Ultimately, the article attempts to establish the urgency of container
network capacity problems and identify areas needing further research.
Marine container transportation is vital to both the North American
and global economies. Almost $1 trillion of goods in more than 39
million TEUs (1) moved through North American ports in 2003 (National
Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2003; American
Association of Port Authorities 2004). As can be seen in Chart 1, this
volume represents another year of consistent and rapid growth. Driven
heavily by imports from Asia (Mongelluzzo 2004d), North American port
volumes have increased an average of 7 percent per year since 1990
(Chart 1), and forecasts indicate this growth will continue
("Drewry Predicts Strong Market until End of 2005" 2004). In
fact, one report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2003) predicts that
container port volumes will at least double by 2020, with some
individual ports seeing triple or quadruple growth.
Despite the increasing demand, North American container ports and
their supporting distribution network have not expanded capacity to
match the volume growth. One study indicates that most major North
American ports are already operating at or near full capacity and will
have significant capacity deficits by 2010 (National Chamber Foundation
of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2003). Another study predicts southeast
U.S. ports will reach maximum capacity within eight years (Wilbur Smith
Associates 2001). Exacerbating the problem is the fact that railroad and
truck carriers serving the ports are also facing severe capacity
shortages ("Capacity Crunch Continues" 2004; Kulisch 2004b)
and that supporting road infrastructure suffers from increasing
congestion problems (Federal Highway Administration 2004; Texas
Transportation Institute 2004). The current capacity situation even has
foreign shippers questioning imminent North American capabilities to
meet capacity requirements (Armbruster 2004a).
Evidence of capacity problems has been emerging for several years.
A two-week labor strike at U.S. West Coast ports in 2002 stranded more
than 200 ships and 300,000 containers (Gooley and Cooke 2002) because
other ports did not have the capacity to accommodate redirected
shipments. The strike required presidential intervention as the delays
cost an already weak U.S. economy $1 billion a day (Keane 2004). 2004
peak season volumes at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest North
American ports, more than doubled projections, causing severe congestion
(Mongelluzzo 2004b). This congestion instigated record volumes at other
ports as shippers and ocean carriers diverted shipments to minimize
delays (Leach and DiBenedetto 2004; Leach 2004b; Leach 2004e).
Expanding system-wide container capacity is extremely difficult.
For one reason, container flows involve a series of linked capacity
factors driven by different stakeholders such as ports, railroads, truck
carriers, and steamship lines. While on the surface the problem appears
to be a direct application of Goldratt's theory of constraints
(Goldratt 1997; Goldratt and Cox 2004), there are complicating factors.
Container flows may be identified as the drum (i.e., primary,
pace-setting) constraint, but their handling involves a series of linked
factors controlled by the stakeholders. As a result, maximum capacity is
controlled at different times by these potentially uncooperative
stakeholders, so no gains will materialize until and unless all
stakeholders jointly cooperate to increase capacity.
Capacity expansions also require significant capital investment and
lead time. Ports must build multi-million dollar terminals, dredge
waterways, and implement technology improvements amidst defying labor
unions. Railroads must add track, locomotives, and personnel. Truck
carriers must find drivers and build power units under tightening
environmental regulations while facing worsening road congestion. Beyond
cost and lead time concerns, many ports have little or no room left to
augment space, so capacity improvements must occur primarily through
enhancements to existing port facilities and labor. However, the
potential impact of productivity increases may be limited since the
efficiency of North American ports has lagged well behind that of
foreign ports (National Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce 2003). Additionally, capacity is affected by issues with the
operational, documentation, and security compliance efficiency of
railroads, truckers, ocean carriers, shippers, and Ocean Transportation
Intermediaries (OTIs). (2) Delays at any or all of these points in the
chain can reduce container throughput velocities and subsequently tie up
capacity longer then necessary. Further compounding the problem are
unpredictable changes in security requirements, terrorist activities,
military deployment (Thomchick 1993), labor strikes, and inclement
weather. All of these may cause significant capacity reductions with
little or no prior warning.
Facing a serious system-wide capacity problem that is projected to
worsen each year, North America is not prepared to meet the anticipated
growth of international marine container volumes. Although the need to
improve the marine transportation structure has been identified for at
least five years (U.S. Marine Transportation System Task Force 1999), no
immediate large-scale plans exist to address capacity shortfalls due
primarily to a lack of coordinated planning by the extensive and complex
array of stakeholders. The ultimate supply chain consequences could be
severe. Insufficient container capacity will drive up shipping costs,
trigger delivery delays due to congestion, and force shippers and
consignees to retain higher inventory levels to address increased supply
uncertainties. This problem will extend to domestic shippers and
consignees as well since international transportation volumes compete
for the same railroad, truck, and road capacity as non-international
OVERVIEW AND APPROACH
Given the magnitude and urgency of North American container
capacity issues, this article reviews existing literature relative to
the marine container distribution network. By aggregating and organizing
previous research, the article seeks to define the scope and complexity
of container capacity problems as well as establish key capacity
drivers. Ultimately, this review seeks to both isolate research gaps and
identify critical topics for future research.
Due to the expanse and complexity of the container distribution
network, the corresponding literature base is extremely diverse,
reaching across many academic fields and orientations. To maintain focus
and parsimony, this review concentrates primarily on logistics,
transportation, and operations literature with some extensions into
other fields to provide perspective. Emphasis is placed on research that
offers insight into factors that affect either network container
capacity or the consequences associated with capacity issues. The review
concentrates on academic research but includes references from industry
literature to maintain connections with relevant practitioner concerns.
The article will begin with a brief overview of the worldwide
container transportation industry, then organize capacity issues and
subsequent literature into a taxonomy based on the interrelated
operational and strategic stakeholders of container flows (Figure 1).
Operational stakeholders are identified as those who are directly
involved with at least one stage of container distribution including
landside (shippers, railroads, drayage carriers, and OTIs), port
(leadership, terminal operators, and labor), and waterside (ocean
carriers) resources. Strategic stakeholders, including governments and
the local port communities, are also included in the analysis as they
significantly impact capacity and stand to suffer from capacity issues.
CONTAINER TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRY OVERVIEW
Malcolm McLean pioneered the first domestic marine container
shipments in 1956 based on his observations of the inefficiencies of
break-bulk marine shipping at the time. McLean later forged the first
international container shipments in 1966. Less than ten years later,
more than sixteen million containers were being shipped internationally,
and the growth has essentially never subsided. Slack (1999) provides a
good overview of the evolution and growth of container volumes, and
Talley (2000) chronicles the technological impact of containerization on
the maritime industry. Containerization has significantly contributed to
world trade expansion, fueling near double-digit import and export
growth of emerging economies in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America
(World Trade Organization 2003). Two papers examine the macro impact of
this trade between nations, including the influence of ports (Boske and
Cuttino 2003; Wilson et al. 2003).
The United States is both the leading importer and exporter in the
world, and Canada and Mexico rank among the top fifteen countries (World
Trade Organization 2003). Table 2 presents the largest ports by 2002 TEU
volume of both North America and the world. Although there are more than
100 public port authorities within North America, the top twenty ports
handled 89 percent of the total TEU volumes, with the top forty ports
handling 99 percent (American Association of Port Authorities). This
concentration is driven by economies of scale with terminal container
handling and vessel size. Smaller ports seeking to grow market share
must acquire hundreds of millions of dollars for capital investment in
port facilities as well as synchronize rail access expansion and road
infrastructure development. In light of these challenges, the major
ports have tended to bear most of the aforementioned 7 percent annual
increases in container volumes.
Worldwide container growth has resulted in only three North
American ports being ranked among the twenty largest in the world, and
only ten are within the world top fifty (American Association of Port
Authorities 2004). Though not all foreign ports have capacity issues
like North America (Terada 2002), at least some do face problems
stemming from rapid volume growth (Fabey 2000; Trunick 2004a). However,
driven by strong national policy, ports outside of North America,
particularly those in Asia, have historically been able to rapidly
expand capacity through effective planning and efficient use of
technology and labor, allowing them to maintain capacity growth and
maximize their return on investment. This agility has allowed foreign
ports to be extremely efficient. One study indicates that Asian port
efficiency is as much as three times higher than North American ports
(National Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2003).
Another report found that most critical services of U.S. and Canadian
ports are rated lower than that of both Europe and Asia, but U.S. and
Canadian port costs were considered to be higher (United States
Department of Transportation Maritime Administration 2002).
The intermodal requirements of international container
transportation result in multiple operational stakeholders. A shipper
will load a container, which is then drayed by truck either directly to
the port or to a rail terminal for transport to the port. If the
container is not directly loaded onto a ship, further drayage occurs
within the port to support positioning and storage. The port terminal
operator will ultimately load the container onto the ship for carriage
to the destination port, where the entire process reverses for delivery
to the consignee. Ironically, the shorter land-based elements of
container transport often cost more than the marine portion due to the
operational efficiencies of the container vessels. Counting the shipper
and consignee, a container may be handled by as many as eight or more
operational stakeholders, not including documentation and support
services provided by OTIs. The next section will break down the
landside, port internal, and waterside activities by these key
stakeholders, identifying capacity problems and consequences.
Landside container transport involves the distribution of
containers to and from the ports by stakeholders including shippers,
drayage carriers, railroads, and OTIs. The railroads and truck carriers
currently present the most urgent capacity impacts, though shippers and
OTIs influence capacity as well.
Although shippers generate the container volumes that can instigate
capacity problems, they can do little to directly alleviate the
situation given the fact that there are no cost-effective alternatives
to marine container service. One opportunity shippers do have to relieve
capacity problems that is addressed in the literature is the efficiency
of container packing/ filling. More efficient container packing can
lower the number of containers required for shipment, minimizing the
required container volume for the entire network while lowering shipper
transportation costs. Several articles propose quantitative-based
solutions for the container packing process (George and Robinson;
Bischoff and Ratcliff 1995; Chen et al. 1995; Chien and Wu 1999; Roan et
al. 2000; Williams et al. 2000; Bortfeldt and Gehring 2001; Pisinger
2002). Other papers supplement container packing research with
consideration of weight distribution and stability factors (Davies and
Bischoff 1999; Eley 2002), which can affect product damage. Software
packages do exist to help shippers with container packing though no
relevant academic research addressing container volume reductions was
Drayage carriers primarily handle short to medium distance
movements to and from the ports and rail terminals. Due to port
congestion, these carriers often face unpredictable and extended wait
times. Another complicating operational problem is equipment ownership.
Most containers are owned by ocean carriers and leasing companies, and
in the United States, the same is true of the container chassis. This
separate stakeholder ownership causes complications in balancing the
scheduling and routing of containers, chassis, and power units to
Many small drayage carriers provide regional port-area transport
only, but larger truckload (TL) carriers also provide both local and
national drayage services. A general increase in truck volumes combined
with driver shortages (Dobie et al. 1998; Min and Lambert 2002),
unsettled hours-of-service laws (Cooke 2004), rising insurance costs,
and new engine environmental regulations (Gottlieb 2001; Leavitt 2003)
have forced a current truck capacity shortage ("Capacity Crunch
Continues" 2004; Kulisch 2004b). Given the aforementioned delays
due to port congestion and equipment positioning problems, truck
carriers tend to favor standard over-the-road moves versus dray moves.
As a result, drayage capacity has suffered significantly as overall
trucking capacity has tightened.
Several articles offer promise for improved truck drayage
operations (Walker 1992; McGuckin and Christopher 2000; Wang and Regan
2002). Danielis and Marcucci (2002) propose pricing approaches for truck
service to compete with rail while considering congestion problems. Load
weight is often a key factor affecting viability of drayage shipments
given road and bridge weight limits. Addressing this situation, Hayuth
(1994) asserts the need for a national review of weight policies, while
Rao and Young (1992) suggest weight limit increases as well as
subsequent transloading of shipments to lower the inland transportation
costs of international shipments.
Railroads are generally more cost-efficient than truck for handling
inland container moves of significant distance, though transit times and
other service factors may be compromised. Presenting a shipper' s
view, Evers and Johnson (2000) address service issues including
communication, transit times, and delivery reliability. Despite inherit
service challenges, intermodal container transport represents the most
rapidly growing revenue stream for the railroads (Bernstein 2004;
Kaufman 2004) though the per-car profit margins tend to be lower than
that of other rail commodities. Turner, Windle, and Dresner (2004)
provide a very complete overview of the rail intermodal industry and
suggest opportunities to improve stakeholder relationships to enhance
competitiveness of the channel.
Many ports have worked with railroads to develop on-dock rail
service to improve container velocity and reduce required handling.
Turner, Windle, and Dresner (2004) highlight the importance of rail-port
connections to port efficiency, and Bana e Costa, Nunes da Silva, and
Vansnick (2001) address conflict resolution associated with construction
of on-dock rail services. Similarly, Koh (2001) offers an approach to
investment problems in intermodal rail networks in order to support port
Like trucking firms, railroads currently face severe capacity
issues, experiencing shortages in equipment and personnel compounded by
heavy network congestion even before the 2004 peak-season (Kulisch
2004b). Both Cottrill (1997) and Wong (1994) discuss the rapid growth of
intermodal rail transport and address subsequent capacity issues. To
help rail capacity, a large body of research offers support for
improvements to intermodal operations. Machaffs and Bontekoning (2004)
present a review of operations research-based intermodal literature,
while Jansen et al. (2004) highlight rail and drayage efficiency
attained by Danzas Euronet. Several papers focus on rail terminal
enhancements, including terminal transfer efficiency (Kozan 1997), ramp
selection (Taylor et al. 2002), terminal location (Arnold et al. 2004),
key terminal service elements and barriers (Stank and Roath 1998), and
terminal facility sharing to reduce required investments (Evers 1994).
Train and railcar routing and scheduling effectiveness are also
supported by several works (Barnhart and Ratliff 1993; Newman and Yano
2000; Yano and Newman 2001).
Ocean Transportation Intermediaries (OTIs)
OTIs, which include freight forwarders, customs brokers, and
non-vessel operating common carriers (NVOCCs), directly support
international container movements. Basic services of forwarders and
brokers include documentation compliance for export and import,
respectively, but many have expanded to third-party logistics (3PL)
status by offering ocean bookings, inland transportation planning,
shipment consolidation, and other functions. NVOCCs primarily provide
booking and consolidation services but also frequently offer 3PL
OTIs can reduce container throughput velocity and increase port
congestion issues with documentation non-conformances and other
communication delays. Subsequently, EDI and other electronic data
exchange capabilities have been identified as critical OTI capabilities.
Murphy and Daley (Murphy and Daley 1996; Murphy and Daley 1999; Murphy
and Daley 2000) offer several works examining EDI use by forwarders,
including both benefits and barriers. Hardaker, Trick, and Sabki (1994)
also investigate EDI benefits for forwarders, while Hellberg and Sannes
(1991) review EDI use for customs clearance. Although no research was
found on the subject, it is worthwhile to note that many OTIs are now
using ocean-carrier-sponsored Internet portals to handle documentation
Internal Port Capacity
Internal port capacity is a multi-dimensional challenge. Although a
marine container port may appear to be a single entity, it generally
consists of several stakeholders, including the port
authority/leadership, terminal operators, and labor.
Overseen by either a civil government or a private board, the port
authority owns the port facilities, though they do not necessarily
provide dockside operations. This leadership is primarily concerned with
the planning, development, and growth of the port facilities, though
performance and security are also key issues. Readers should bear in
mind that such activities apply not only to container volumes but also
to an additional $1 trillion of non-containerized cargo flowing through
North American ports (American Association of Port Authorities).
Several works address port planning and development (Comtois 1999),
including investment priorities (Koh 2001) and the use of simulation to
support growth planning (Park and Noh 1987; Luo and Grigalunas 2003).
Cottrill (1997) identifies the critical need for port expansion and
points to capital development as a critical issue. Ircha (2001) presents
an analysis of Canadian port reform, highlighting issues regarding
access to growth capital. Slack (1993) recognizes that even though port
authorities are responsible for the financial development of the port,
their ultimate destiny is often well beyond their own influence.
Likewise, Moglia and Sanguineri (2003) and Turner, Windle, and Dresner
(2004) emphasize the need for coordinated stakeholder support for port
Regarding facilities, waterways and land remain two major capacity
issues for ports. To maximize marine efficiencies, container ship sizes
have consistently increased, with 8,000 TEU vessels already calling some
ports and 9,600 TEU ships currently on order. Bigger ships require
deeper waterways, and many ports must devote significant capital to
channel dredging. Several articles address dredging challenges, costs,
and capital recovery (Mohan and Palermo 1998; Alcorn and Foxworthy 2001;
Ashar 2003). Beyond the size of the waterways themselves, Mastaglio
(1997) highlights bridge accidents, an additional potential problem
associated with larger vessels.
With respect to land, many ports no longer have much land available
for expansion. As an innovative solution, some ports, such as Los
Angeles, are using dredged materials to create land (McNeilan and
Foxworthy 1993; "Ports Desperate for Space and Dredging
Options" 1998). With little coastal land available, inland
facilities represent a promising port expansion opportunity. Containers
can be railed or barged in mass directly from vessels to inland
facilities for individual handling and distribution, increasing overall
port throughput while decreasing drayage costs and road congestion. As
one example, the Port of Virginia has established facilities 220 miles
inland with full rail, truck, and customs services. Notteboom and
Winkelmans (2001) recommend development of inland facilities to address
port expansion requirements, and Walter and Poist (2003) examine
desirable characteristics of an inland port from both carrier and
Port performance, especially relative to competition, also remains
a critical concern of port leadership. A few papers consider the
importance of port competitive positioning (Comtois 1999; Marcadon
1999), and Slack (1993) indicates even large facilities are not exempt
from competitive pressures. Several works investigate port competitive
factors using mathematical modeling (Malchow and Kanafani 2001; Nir et
al. 2003), analytical hierarchy process (AHP) (Lirn et al. 2004; Song
and Yeo 2004), surveyed opinions (Murphy et al. 1988; Murphy et al.
1989; Murphy et al. 1991; Murphy et al. 1992; Murphy and Daley 1994),
and case studies (Cheung Ho 1992; Flor and Defilippi 2003; Garrido and
Leva 2004). Two papers identify competitive elements outside of port
control (Tiwari et al. 2003; Malchow and Kanafani 2004), while Veldman
Buckmann (2003) presents port traffic and market share forecasting
techniques. From a port relationship viewpoint, Heaver et al. (2001)
assesses competitive and cooperative elements of inter-port
relationships, and other studies indicate the need to increase
cooperation among competing ports to seek out strategic and operational
synergies (Fleming and Baird 1999; Song 2003). Paixao and Marlow (2003)
suggest that ports should enhance their agility in response to increased
competition and market uncertainty. For shipper performance perceptions,
Bennett and Gabriel (2001) examine how ports can improve relationships
with shippers, and Lopez and Poole (1998) imply the importance of port
service provider quality for customer assurance of port capabilities.
Related to competition and performance, other research addresses
efficiency assessments of ports, and Park and De (2004) provide a strong
literature review of port efficiency modeling. Port efficiency has been
assessed by survey methods (Sanchez et al. 2003), data envelopment
analysis (DEA) (Park and De 2004; Turner et al. 2004), and other
mathematical techniques (Kim and Sachish 1986). Some papers focus on
both cost and performance measurement (Talley 1994; Jara-Diaz et al.
2002), while Tongzon (1995) assesses the impact of port efficiency on
performance. Paik and Bagchi (2000) examine how process re-engineering
combined with technology can improve port operational productivity.
Similarly, benchmarking has been presented as another option for port
assessment of efficiency and competitive positioning (Cuadrado et al.
As another influence of port capacity, security remains an
important and extremely timely concern of port leadership, which must
coordinate investment and planning for security regulations with other
port operational stakeholders. Though security has improved in the wake
of recent world violence, container traffic is still not completely
secure from terrorist activity, and port security funding is still
generally considered insufficient (Trunick 2004c). Port security has
been recognized as an issue even before the September 11, 2001 terrorist
attacks (Murphy et al. 1988; Murphy et al. 1989), and Stephens (1989)
presents an early look at port security barriers.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established
programs to improve container and port security. C-TPAT (Customs-Trade
Partnership Against Terrorism) validates security processes and
protocols of shippers, and CSI (Container Security Initiative) targets
foreign-shipped containers for advanced screening (Kulisch 2004a).
However, the DHS has been criticized for its disorganization and
in-fighting (Kulisch 2004c) ("U.S. Maritime Security Less Than
Advertised, Security Experts Warn" 2004), and some industry experts
have indicated that maritime security funding is not sufficient
("AAPA's Nagle: Federal Budget Cuts Port Security Grant
Program" 2005). Beyond that, it is still not clear from where all
the funding for security will come (Trunick 2004b).
Some research is now emerging to assess maritime security
(Stasinopoulos 2003) as well as examine security best practices,
including information systems (Kevan 2004; Noda 2004), sensors
(Durstenfeld et al. 2003), container tracking (Kia et al. 2000; Fortner
2002), and gate traffic (Cruz and Nye 2002). Noda (2004) discusses ocean
carrier roles in enhancing security through linked systems, and radio
frequency identification (RFID) also offers potential security
enhancements (Machalaba and Pasztor 2004). Overall, container security
regulations, technologies, and processes are still evolving, and ports
must ensure security advancements do not prove detrimental to capacity.
Terminal operators, which are often independent entities from the
port authority, manage the physical dockside operations of the port,
primarily including container loading, unloading, and storage. These
operators are challenged to maintain efficient portside operations in
combination with effective coordination with railroad, drayage carriers,
and labor unions. Lopez and Poole (1998) describe key port operational
processes, and De Souza et al. (2003) offer an exploration of terminal
operator strategy and development.
Since many terminal operational processes contain mathematically
compelling properties, an abundance of operations research studies have
examined optimization of port processes. Vis and Koster (2003) present a
good literature review of optimization research in the area. Several
papers use simulation to assess multiple functions of terminal
operations simultaneously (Yun and Choi 1999; Tahar and Hussain 2000;
Gambardella et al. 2001; Shabayek and Yeung 2002), while Bish (2003)
does the same with mathematical programming. With respect to individual
terminal processes, the most prevalently examined topic by existing
research is container loading and unloading, including crane scheduling
(Martin et al. 1988; Avriel and Penn 1993; Kim and Bae 1998; Kim and Kim
1999b; Kim and Kim 1999c; Chung et al. 2002; Narasimhan and Palekar
2002; Zhang et al. 2002; Kim and Kim 2003; Kim and Bae 2004; Kim and
Park 2004; Kim et al. 2004). Ship scheduling and berthing are examined
in many articles (El Sheikh et al. 1987; Kim and Lee 1997; Lira 1998;
Nishimura et al. 2001; Guan et al. 2002), as are container storage
(Sculli and Hui 1988; Kim and Kim 1999a; Preston and Kozan 2001; Kim and
Park 2003; Zhang et al. 2003), and delivery and receiving (Kim et al.
Due to the complexity of operational processes and coordination,
systems and technology play a critical role in terminal operations. Wan,
Wah, and Meng (1992) examine the role of port technology, and Bagchi and
Paik (2001) describe port collaboration with the private sector for
systems development. Veras and Walton (1996) find that although
technology is pervasive at ports, additional opportunities exist for
technology improvements, including container identification, container
location, gate processes, and carrier/agent connections. Several studies
address the use of EDI in terminal operations (Cuyvers and Janssens
1992; Garstone 1995), while others compare port operations with and
without electronic container tracking capability (Kia et al. 2000).
Finally, Schwarz-Miller and Talley (2002) address the critical tendency
of longshore labor unions to hamper implementation of port technology in
order to protect jobs.
While terminal operators manage port operations, they usually must
collectively bargain with unions for labor services such as container
loading and unloading. As demonstrated during the 2002 U.S. West Coast
strikes, the longshore unions tend to retain strong bargaining positions
and enjoy relatively generous compensation packages (Mongelluzzo 2004c).
Ironically, the evolution of containerization led to the loss of the
majority of longshoreman jobs, prompting the unions to fiercely protect
remaining personnel (Vigarie 1999). Talley indicates the strength of
longshoremen bargaining power (2004) and also examines union wage growth
(2002). To facilitate labor productivity improvements, several studies
employ mathematical programming and simulation to optimize scheduling of
work crews and equipment operators (Silberholz et al. 1991; Kim et al.
2004; Legato and Monaco 2004). Overall, North American port labor
efficiency and resistance to technology enhancements (Schwarz-Miller and
Talley 2002) remain major obstacles to port capacity growth, especially
for ports that are unable to expand facilities.
Existing research on the waterside activities of container
distribution focuses primarily on ocean carriers. Pilotage, tug, and
towing services also represent additional waterside elements. Very
little literature exists on these subjects at this time, however.
Also referred to as steamship lines, ocean container carriers
operate in a unique competitive environment. Protected from many facets
of anti-trust regulations, the carriers participate in conferences to
discuss both market conditions and rates in the attempt to stabilize
profitability. A detailed assessment of the conference system is beyond
the scope of this article, but readers may reference several works for
awareness of the topic (see Clarke  and Slack, Comtois, and
McCalla ). Industry consolidation has reduced the number of ocean
carriers, and most remaining players share vessel space to maximize
operational and capital efficiencies. Regardless of the conference
system and vessel sharing, ocean carrier profitability remains
relatively unstable, but vessel capacity has not historically proven to
be a major capacity issue.
Given the significant capital and operating expenses of container
vessels, ocean carriers have found efficiencies in increasing ship size.
Cullinane and Khanna (1999) discuss the economies of ship size, and
Talley (1986) indicates that bigger vessels are advantageous to ocean
carriers. It is interesting to note that ship size has proven to be both
a major boost and impairment to overall system-wide capacity. While
larger ships can increase capacity and lower shipping costs, many ports
do not have the equipment, facilities, and waterways to accommodate the
larger vessels. Additionally, larger ships lead to greater unevenness of
container flows as more containers arrive and depart during port calls
(Mongelluzzo 2005). This further strains port, railroad, and drayage
peak operational requirements.
Network capacity problems cause significant issues for ocean
carriers. For example, congestion-related vessel delays, schedule
adjustments, and diversions reduce overall available capacity. One
carrier executive estimates this could add up to several percentage
points in peak season (Mottley 2005). As another example, carriers must
also overcome congestion effects on the distribution of empty
containers. As demonstrated by the current $600 billion U.S. trade
deficit, North American import growth has rapidly outpaced that of
exports. This has created an imbalance of container flows that
necessitates carriers move many empty containers out of North America to
be used for pending imports. Ocean carriers attempt to optimize the
matching of delivered imports to export orders to minimize empty
movements and improve cycle times, but empty container management still
represents an unavoidable and significant portion of the lines'
cost uncertainty. Several papers analyze empty container positioning at
ports (Gao 1994; Lai et al. 1995; Shen and Khoong 1995), and Choong,
Cole, and Kutanoglu (2002) research the planning horizon for empties on
barge shipments. Hahn (2003) examines container positioning at Los
Angeles/Long Beach, CA and indicates that global container availability,
especially in Asia, is more important than local North American empty
container flow optimization.
As a third capacity issue, ocean carriers must cope with customer
service problems created by system-wide capacity shortages. When
shippers and customers face service problems with container shipments,
the steamship lines generally accept responsibility for resolution, even
though the problem origin may lie with ports, railroads, or truck
carriers. Two works assess ocean carrier service quality and
satisfaction (Durvasula et al. 2000; Durvasula et al. 2002), while
Durvasula, Lysonski, and Mehta (1999) test a scale for ocean line
customer service. Highlighting key service issues, several articles
assess shipper selection criteria of lines (Semeijn and Vellenga 1995;
Lu 2003), with Kent and Parker (1999) denoting key differences between
shipper and liner perceptions of important factors. Shashikumar and
Schatz (2000) indicate that shippers do not necessarily trust ocean
carriers and present recommendations to improve shipper relationships.
In this section, we consider two additional stakeholders in North
American ports: governmental agencies and local communities. While not
directly involved in container operations, these stakeholders do play
important roles in a container capacity.
From a macro perspective, container network capacity is dynamically
related to government policy as both a source and a target. As a source,
capacity and congestion problems can significantly impact economic
stability and subsequently heavily influence government policy. For
example, container volume growth has been primarily driven by imports,
as validated by the continually widening U.S. trade deficit ("U.S.
Trade Deficit Sets Another Record" 2005). So network congestion
impedes the stability and timeliness of inbound supply networks, and
this inbound congestion then obstructs export flows. From a target
perspective, government policies and actions can significantly affect
container network capacity. For instance, federal deficit challenges
will reduce available funding for highway, security, and other capacity
investments. Also, rising interest rates could dissuade private and
public borrowing for capacity expansion, but tax policies can be used to
encourage corporate investment in capacity, especially relative to the
railroads and truck carriers.
Looking at one specific policy target influence, governments
directly impact container capacity through highway and local road
infrastructure. Research indicates that road capacity shortfalls and
subsequent congestion have emerged as critical issues among truck
carriers. A 2004 report to the Federal Highway Administration (2004)
indicates that road congestion is getting worse in cities of all sizes,
causing higher fuel expenses and pollution while instigating delivery
reliability and safety issues. The 2004 Urban Mobility Report from the
Texas Transportation Institute (2004) shows that since 1982, peak-hour
delays have tripled while the financial impact of congestion has more
than quadrupled to $63 billion annually. Specific to container flows, a
2002 U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration report
(2002) found significant vehicle access limitations at many container
Several research studies address congestion issues. Pope et al.
(1995) as well as Kia, Shayan, and Ghotb (2002) offer simulations of
congestion issues in or near ports, and Golob and Regan (2002) examine
how truck carriers obtain congestion information to minimize operational
impacts. Survey research of truck carriers in California has validated
road congestion as a significant problem (Regan and Golob 1999; Golob
and Regan 2001) and suggests relief options such as improved scheduling,
longer port hours, advance clearance systems, and truck-only roads for
port access (Golob and Regan 2000; Regan and Golob 2000). Other
literature also offers similar suggestions (Rao et al. 1991; Rao and
Grenoble 1991; Golob and Regan 2003). Short-sea shipping solutions can
reduce the need for over-the-road transport. The European Union (EU) is
promoting short-sea transport (Becket et al. 2004), but the U.S.
generally has not pursued the option (Leach 2004c; Edmonson 2005b). One
article assesses routing for feeder ships to support container
distribution (Sambracos et al. 2004).
In addition to impacts on road infrastructure, some practitioners
contend that government should play a stronger role in coordinating
North American system-wide capacity solution planning (National Chamber
Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2003). Chlomoudis and Pallis
(2002) argue the same for Europe, and the European Commission is
currently attempting to implement productivity improvements through
increased port service competition (Barnard 2004). While not addressing
capacity specifically, two papers indicate that U.S. maritime policy is
outdated and ineffective (Farris 1982; Shashikumar 1994), and similarly,
Goss (1998) critiques the evolution of British maritime policies.
Given the economic stakes involved with container volumes,
contentions for a stronger government role in container network capacity
planning may have logic. In the United States, the Office of
Intermodalism was established within the Department of Transportation to
provide planning coordination across multiple modes, but critics
maintain the organization has not proven very effective (National
Chamber Foundation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2003). The task of
the Office of Intermodalism is significantly daunting given that
container flows touch upon a multitude of national, state, and local
government organizations (see Table 3 for examples), not to mention the
ports and thousands of ocean, rail, and truck carriers.
Local communities must also be considered when assessing port
capacity issues. Communities directly benefit from port economics
(DeSalvo 1994) but also present challenges to container capacity in the
form of environmental issues from emissions (Carlton 2003; Sanders
2004), water pollution (Goulielmos and Pardali 1998; "Pollution
Fine for Owner of MSC Ship" 2003), and wildlife protection
(Armbruster 2004b). There have been several instances of communities
attempting to block container terminal expansion due to environmental
and other concerns ("Charleston Eyes Smaller Container Terminal
Plan" 2000; Machalaba 2004). Kolk and Veen (2002) examine port
environmental strategies relative to public interests. Schulkin (2002)
overviews numerous cruise ship pollution issues of which several are
directly applicable to container vessels as well. Two works examine the
environmental impact of dredging on the community (Mohan and Palermo
1998; Alcorn and Foxworthy 2001), and Krueger (2001) illustrates an
inventive dredging disposal solution in which the Port of Houston has
used dredged materials to create wetlands and islands to support
CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
North American marine container volumes exceed forecasts every year
(Mongelluzzo 2004e). Facing such surging growth, North America is
challenged with multiple capacity issues that appear to be converging
simultaneously. Ports must increase container capacity given limitations
with land expansion, facilities, efficiency, and labor. Even if the
ports can keep pace, railroad and truck capacities are tight, and
inadequate road infrastructure has created further congestion issues.
Governments and communities also present capacity barriers. All of these
stakeholders have historically operated and planned primarily
independently of one another. In fact, a National Chamber Foundation
report (2003, 31) argues that we "do not have an 'intermodal
system' as such but rather "an aggregation of public and
private modes" that have yet to significantly coordinate growth
planning and strategies. If container volumes double, triple, and
quadruple as expected, a massive, synchronized planning organization
consisting of all stakeholders must guide capacity growth.
The Alameda Corridor in California represents one positive albeit
isolated example of coordinated planning to address capacity issues.
Jointly planned by port authorities, rail carriers, and local
government, this rail line connects the Ports of Los Angeles and Long
Beach with major transcontinental rail lines. It has increased capacity
from 35 to 100 trains per day (Bradley et al. 2002) while reducing trip
times, traffic congestion, and pollution from emissions (Morton 2002).
The project funding of $2.4 billion was raised through public and
private sources ("Alameda Corridor Repays Federal Loan Early"
2004), and further subsidies are generated through per container fees to
shippers and steamship lines. Initial studies for the project began in
1981, and the corridor formally opened in 2002 after more than five
years of construction ("Alameda Corridor Repays Federal Loan
Early" 2004). Despite this significant effort, the capacity outlook
in the region remains unsettled, in that the rail lines connecting to
the Alameda Corridor still face significant capacity issues (Mongelluzzo
2003), and traffic through the Corridor itself is expected to double
current capacity by 2010 (Mongelluzzo 2004a).
Beyond the Alameda Corridor, some efforts have been made to address
capacity issues ("West Coast Ports Address Impediments to Trade
Flow" 2004), but there is no large-scale, coordinated strategy in
place to ensure container volumes will not quickly outstrip system-wide
capacity. A range of consequences associated with a shortfall in
container network capacity could result. One of the least problematic is
that shippers must endure shipment delays as well as higher costs from
congestion and extended peak-season surcharges. This is already the case
at some ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach. As capacity issues
become more critical, shippers may face higher freight rates and overall
reductions in service and reliability. Businesses, in turn, will
increase inventory levels to balance against the additional uncertainty,
and supply shortages could cause temporary plant shutdowns similar to
those in the weeks after the September 11th tragedy. In the extreme
case, severe capacity shortages could negatively impact world trade,
potentially instigating worldwide economic decline.
The capacity of container ports and the supporting distribution
network is an urgent and significant concern. This article has reviewed
literature relative to the numerous factors that influence container
capacity in North America. Although research does exist to address
particular elements of capacity, very little effectively identifies the
magnitude of the problem or assesses conditions from a complete,
systemwide viewpoint. More robust container network research is needed
to clarify capacity issues, identify causes, and facilitate resolution.
Readers can possibly draw many compelling research opportunities from
the body of this article, but several critical streams are further
* Forecasts of container volumes and capacities--While the basis
for a container network capacity problem is unmistakable, more detailed,
reliable volume and capacity forecasts by region are needed to further
validate the magnitude, timing, and urgency of capacity issues. Such
forecasts will allow researchers to estimate and simulate potential
impacts of capacity shortfalls and, in turn, motivate resolution
* Key capacity drivers--This article classified many container
capacity drivers that are both internal and external to the ports, but
additional research is needed to determine which factors and
stakeholders present the most immediate obstacles to capacity growth.
Researchers could then focus on these crucial drivers to help facilitate
industry planning and solution efforts.
* Port efficiency--Much of the North American port capacity growth
must come from efficiency increases rather than physical expansion.
Given the relative inefficiency of North American ports compared to
foreign ports, research could benchmark efficiency drivers and recommend
changes for North American ports.
* Port growth planning--Additional exploration is needed to address
how ports will support required capacity growth, examining port
strategic planning relative to key capacity drivers and stakeholders.
Such work could not only focus on major ports but also incorporate
smaller ports that are in position to expand to fill capacity gaps.
Likewise, shippers do not currently tend to use Mexico ports as
alternatives for U.S. and Canada imports, but research could examine
improvements to NAFTA operations to revolutionize the growth of Mexico
port facilities to support North American container flows.
* Stakeholder and system growth planning--Like port growth
planning, more research can be conducted to examine individual
stakeholder growth preparation as well as how the ports and associated
stakeholders can synchronize growth planning efforts to ensure future
system-wide container capacity. Based on historical precedence, some
stakeholder such as railroads and truck carriers may have significant
concerns about developing excess capacity, fearing exposure if future
volumes are over-forecasted.
* Government leadership--Many practitioners feel the government
needs to provide stronger leadership and more robust policy for the
port, railroad, and highway infrastructure. Research could support this
as well as investigate potential government alternatives for capacity
planning and financing such as tax breaks for private investment.
* Technology and process improvements--Technology and process
improvement will most likely prove to be key enablers of efficiency
gains and subsequent growth, so additional research in this area would
prove extremely valuable. Vital drivers include automating documentation
flow, coordinating operations between the port and the railroads,
drayage carriers, and OTIs, and further optimizing container scheduling,
storage, and tracking. As an example, the Port of Tacoma has
demonstrated effective implementation of technology and processes
improvements to improve agility (Leach 2004d).
* Labor--Beyond technology and processes improvement, issues with
longshore labor unions including efficiency, technology resistance, and
cost stand as major impediments to port productivity. Research could
further investigate efficiency barriers and resistance to change to
support port capacity gains.
* Security--Maritime security remains a critical issue, requiring
that ports expand capacity without compromising the safety of North
American citizens. With security regulations likely to continue to
intensify, more research is needed on container security technology such
as electronic seals, container tracking (such RFID), and equipment
screening. Research can also assess the effectiveness of Homeland
Security programs such as CSI and C-TPAT as well as help determine
funding requirements for port security.
* Growth financing--Traditionally funded by government bonds,
private investment, and user fees (Bergantino and Coppejans 2000), new
port facilities can cost at least several hundred million dollars (see
Bartelme 2003 and "New Shanghai Port to Bid Terminals" 2004 as
examples), and as terminal expansion becomes more resourceful due to
limited land, these costs will certainly increase. Likewise, rail and
road expansion are also extremely costly. Research could help formulate
innovative, untapped capital resources to enable port and supporting
network capacity growth. Examples might include joint private-public
programs or the use of tax breaks to stimulate investment.
* Strategies for capacity interruptions--Since most ports are
currently operating at high capacity, there is little room in the
network to absorb capacity interruptions caused by military deployments,
labor strikes, weather disasters, terrorism, and other incidents.
Research could support government contingency planning (Edmonson 2005a)
for capacity interruptions to minimize system-wide impact.
These suggestions are by no means exhaustive but do illustrate the
depth and range of the research that is needed to begin to address
emerging capacity problems in ports and container distribution networks.
As the global economy grows, an efficient logistics system must expand
with it, and practitioners and the popular press have begun to identify
the potential capacity shortfalls. Academic researchers should take more
initiative and leadership to actively address these issues and identify
not only the problems but potential solutions as well.
(1) A twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) represents a twenty-foot
container. A forty-foot equivalent unit (FEU) represents a forty-foot
container and is equivalent to two TEUs. Industry standard is to
represent volume in TEUs.
(2) OTIs include freight forwarders, customs brokers, and
non-vessel operating common carriers (NVOCCs).
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Mr. Maloni is assistant professor of management and Mr. Jackson is
assistant professor of management, Black School of Business, Penn State
Erie, The Behrend College, Erie, Pennsylvania 16563. The authors wish to
thank the three anonymous reviewers for their insight and feedback.
Figure 1. Stakeholders of Container Capacity
Operational Landside Shippers
Stakeholders Dray Truckers
Port Port Authority/Leadership
Waterside Ocean Carriers
Table 1. Container Capacity Influences
Internal Port External Port
Capacity Factors Capacity Factors
Capital Railroad Capacity and Efficiency
Facilities, Equipment Truck Capacity and Efficiency
Waterways Steamship Line Efficiency
Labor Road Congestion
Technology Shipper Efficiency
Efficiency OTI Efficiency
Internal Port Other
Capacity Factors Capacity Influences
Capital Security Regulations
Facilities, Equipment Terrorism Activity
Waterways Military Deployments
Labor Labor Strikes
Table 2. Largest Container Ports by TEU Volume--2002
2002 Port TEU Volumes (Thousand TEUs)
Rank Port Country TEUs
1 Log Angeles USA 6,106
2 Long Beach USA 4,524
3 New York/New Jersey USA 3,749
4 San Juan USA 1,740
5 Oakland USA 1,708
6 Charleston USA 1,593
7 Tacoma USA 1,471
8 Vancouver CAN 1,458
9 Seattle USA 1,439
10 Hampton Roads USA 1,438
11 Savannah USA 1,328
12 Houston USA 1,147
13 Montreal CAN 1,055
14 Miami USA 981
15 Honolulu USA 945
16 Jacksonville USA 684
17 Manzanillo MEX 639
18 Port Everglades USA 554
19 Veracruz MEX 548
20 Halifax USA 524
2002 Port TEU Volumes (Thousand TEUs)
Port Country TEUs
1 Hong Kong CHN 19,144
2 Singapore SGP 16,941
3 Busan KOR 9,436
4 Shanghai CHN 8,620
5 Kaohsiung TWN 8,493
6 Shenzhen CHN 7,614
7 Rotterdam NLD 6,515
8 Los Angeles USA 6,106
9 Hamburg DEU 5,374
10 Antwerp BEL 4,777
11 Port Kelang MYS 4,533
12 Long Beach USA 4,524
13 Dubai ARE 4,194
14 Yantian CHN 4,181
15 New York/New Jersey USA 3,749
16 Quingdao CHN 3,410
17 Bremen/Bremerhafen DEU 3,032
18 Gioia Tauro ITA 2,954
19 Felixstowe GBR 2,750
20 Tokyo JPN 2,712
Table 3. Example of Government Agencies Impacting Container Flows--U.S.
Local/State Port Authority Agencies
Federal Department of Federal Highway Administration
Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Federal Railroad Administration
Maritime Administration (MARAD)
Office of Intermodalism
Surface Transportation Board
Department of Transportation Security
Homeland Security Administration (TSA)
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Customs & Border
Army Corps of Engineers