Recent Logjam is Turning Chicago into a Logistics Bottleneck
There’s no doubt about it: the last year has presented logistical challenges the likes of which have never been seen. The COVID 19 pandemic, a significant labor shortage, and environmental disasters all led to a perfect storm in which supply chains were pushed to their limits.
One of the newest issues plaguing our supply chains is that of bottlenecks in high-traffic areas. When we think of shipping bottlenecks, one of the most obvious images that come to mind is that of the grounding of the container vessel in the Suez Canal creating massive port congestion.
However, even more recently, a new development in what seems to be a never-ending series of difficulties is that of a logistics bottleneck in Chicago.
What Is Causing the Problem?
Historically, Chicago has been in a prime spot to handle incoming shipments and switch them out for outgoing ones. This is due to the fact that Chicago sits pretty much smack in the middle of our country’s 7 major railroad transportation lines, making it the perfect location for cargo to be exchanged. That alone would be enough to put a strain on the area, but Chicago also lies on a truck route that serves over 30% of the US population.
So, in addition to the extreme railroad traffic they are attempting to handle, they have to deal with the major surge in truck shipments moving through the region as well.
Both individual consumers and businesses’ expectations for speedy delivery rates are at an all-time high. Many of us now expect our products to be delivered within just a short day or two at most and give little thought to the logistical hurdles this demand presents.
With the aforementioned labor shortage and the restrictions that were, until recently, making it difficult to access certain materials, orders are continuing to pile up until they are finally able to be filled, and many of these orders are converging in Chicago.
Surge in Shipments
So, we can see that Chicago is an intuitive stopping point for nearly everything that needs to travel long distances in the US, whether by train or by truck. Clearly, it’s been this way for a long time and the region has been able to handle the shipments with no problem in the past.
But with the incredibly high shipping demand as a response to the country reopening after the pandemic combined with the labor shortage, Chicago is experiencing an overwhelming bottleneck and the workers are doing everything they can to keep things moving.
Without some unique solutions to the problem, it seems as if this will be an issue for a while and companies and consumers will just have to accept longer shipment times.
What is Being Done to Address The Bottleneck?
A number of potential solutions have been proposed, some of which show some promise; others not so much.
Transportation by Truck
Some companies have floated the idea of switching from railroad to truck transportation exclusively until the problem is addressed. This is problematic for two main reasons:
- Truck transportation tends to be more expensive.
- Using trucks for further trips makes trucks unavailable for longer periods than usual.
Still, while the railway transportation issue continues to plague Chicago, this may serve as a viable, temporary solution.
Transportation by Air
Switching to increased air-freight transport has been considered by many companies as a potential solution to the issue at hand, but it is often quickly abandoned as the cost is so extraordinarily high. Even diverting a few shipments to air transportation pushes businesses ’ transportation costs so high that they have no choice but to raise their prices on consumer products.
Temporary Suspension of Shipments
In the short term, in an attempt to allow the workers to have a minute of breathing room and to slightly clear up the logjam, Union Pacific halted service from California to the congested Chicago region for a few days in mid-July. While this certainly helped with the extreme backlog of shipments in Chicago, this did little to address the route of the problem.
Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to halt shipments on a regular basis. The best solution is one where some shipments are able to bypass the Chicago logjam, while still being affordable and legitimate options for businesses to implement.
While many companies are instituting new policies and attempting to sidestep the issue of congestion in Chicago, it seems that few viable solutions have been proposed so far. Until we can figure out a cost-effective way to deliver products and goods quickly, efficiently, and without causing a bottleneck in high-traffic areas, it seems as though we may be looking at delays in Chicago for some time still.