The Takeaway

Ships Head East as West Coast Port Dispute Continues

Friday, February 20, 2015

Shipping companies are looking to rely less on West Coast ports and more on ports in New Jersey, Georgia, and Texas.


The Takeaway

Cargoland: Automation Threatens Dockworkers

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Independent producer Lu Olkowski continues her tour of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with a look at automation moving to supplant the human dockworker.

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NYPR Archives & Preservation

Listen to what Nelson Rockefeller said about Belgium in 1965

Tuesday, July 01, 2014


Back in happier, non-World-Cup-matches-between-Belgium-and-USA times, this is what the New York state governor said. Listen to the whole, happy broadcast here.

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Transportation Nation

Reimagining Package Delivery, WalMart Asks Customers to Play Courier

Friday, March 29, 2013

(Nancy Marshall-Genzer -- Marketplace) So, you’re at Walmart, getting ready to pay. The cashier says, 'Wait! You can get a few bucks off if you deliver some stuff your neighbor ordered.'

Walmart is definitely thinking outside the big box on this one. Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, says Walmart may be thinking customer couriers would be faster than Amazon, which Walmart sees as enemy number one -- for good reason.

“The whole retail industry is shifting toward mobile and online purchases and probably felt like they’ve gotten a late start to it,” Perkins says.

So they have to get creative. Walmart and other big-box stores have also experimented with matching Amazon’s prices. Other retailers are offering free apps that tell them when you’re in their store. They can track your progress through the aisles and text you with special offers.

“Let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you’re in the ice cream aisle," explains Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. "They can tell you that Haagen-Dazs ice cream is on sale today.”

Other retailers are closing brick-and-mortar stores and customizing the ones they keep. Alden Lury, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says for example, a Target in a city might not stock bargain sizes.

“You might not find the 12-pack of Bounty," he says. "You might find the six pack of Bounty. It might be hard to get on the subway with a 12-pack of Bounty.”

Lury says if retailers can get to know their customers that well, and tailor themselves to what savvy shoppers want, they might just have a chance against Amazon.

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Transportation Nation

NY/NJ Port Official: We Never Thought We'd See 13-Foot Storm Surge

Friday, November 30, 2012

(Bob Hennelly, WNYC -- New York) The New York City region’s cargo port system may have been up and running six days after Sandy struck, but the storm's unprecedented storm surge left its mark and is prompting a review of past assumptions about port vulnerabilities to another Sandy-like event.

"No one believed there could be a 13-foot storm surge ever in this port and there was," said retired Rear Admiral Rick Larrabee, director of Port Commerce for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "I talked to people who have worked here for 30 years who said they never feared for their lives but they did that night."

The Port Authority's cargo handling operation is a sprawling complex that encompasses waterfront facilities in Brooklyn and Staten Island, in New York as well as vast terminals in Newark, Bayonne and Jersey City in New Jersey

Top of the to do list is exploring how to make their facilities less vulnerable to the kind of prolonged power outage that came after the storm. "We have got to work with the utilities," Larrabee said. "We are all interdependent."

He also thinks it’s critical to keep a sense of urgency when it comes to following up on lessons learned.

"I have a theory about the half life of events like this. The further out it gets from when it first happened the fuzzier it gets," Larrabee said.

Larrabee said the storm surge enveloped 14,000 new cars on the docks on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, incapacitated 40 percent of the 50 gargantuan cargo cranes that stand several stories high and took out 2,500 trucks critical to moving freight off the docks.

It also flooded Larrabee's Ports Administrative Office and the Port's police headquarters, which still remains out of commission a month later.

Larrabee says before the storm, the area’s cargo network was headed for an increase in volume, but the storm and its aftermath could hurt the final annual total.

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Transportation Nation

U.S. Freight Rail Has Biggest June Ever

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Association for American Railroads released their weekly data-packed report on the rail freight industry and their numbers say, business is bouncing back big time.

It was the biggest June on record, and third biggest month ever for what they call intermodal rail traffic: the number of shipping containers or truckloads that move by rail, but start or end on a truck or ship. (It doesn't count "carloads" of raw materials like coal). For you business junkies out there, intermodal rail traffic is more interesting because it reveals economic trends: companies only ship things they are buying or selling, so it is a leading economic indicator often predicting economic growth in the months to come. Those containers are filled with materials and goods businesses will start selling soon.

A bit more from AAR:

"Through June, year-to-date 2012 U.S. intermodal originations were slightly ahead of 2006, setting up the very real possibility that 2012 will be the highest-volume intermodal year ever for U.S. railroads.  The recovery since 2009 has been remarkable.  In the first six months of 2009, average weekly intermodal loadings were 185,075 containers and trailers.  In the first six months of 2012, the average was up to 232,682 containers and trailers, a 25.7% increase. "

Via Business Insider

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Transportation Nation

Craft Brewers Work Hard To Get Suds To Thirsty Masses in Sweltering Heat

Friday, July 06, 2012

Beer inside DC Brau's brewery in Washington, D.C.  needs to keep cool. For small brewers in blistering heat, shipping becomes make or break for in the beer business. (Photo by Martin Di Caro)

Hear this story in audio (with catchy music too) at WAMU

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Environmentally aware consumers choose to eat vegetables and meat produced at local farms to avoid foods hauled over long distances by tractor trailers. Buying close to home also helps the local economy. It tastes better, too ... usually. Produce is fresher if eaten the day after it's picked and sold at a local farmer's market, unlike fruits and vegetables hauled across the country on a truck.

In many cities, consumers do not have such options at their liquor store. But the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area's emerging craft beer market is now catering to their tastes.

"The less time the product has to travel the fresher it will be," says Jeff Hancock, the co-founder and head brewer at D.C. Brau, the city's first microbrewery since 1956. Hancock and co-founder Brandon Skall opened D.C. Brau last April.

As small business owners with just five full-time and six part-time employees, they face formidable tasks of coordinating the shipments of their ingredients over long distances, and then getting their finished product to the market fresh.

"One of the big issues related to transportation that we have... is making sure that the beer stays cold from the time it leaves here to the time it gets to the account," says Skall. "It's really, really important to us since our beer is unfiltered that our beer stays cold."

Keeping D.C. Brau's four flagship beers (named Corruption, Citizen, Public, and Penn Quarter Porter) cold while they are at the brewery is not a problem. Hancock and Skall lose control the moment the brews leave the brewery.

"So you want to make sure your distributor has refrigerated trucks, your distributor has a working cold box, things that are going to keep your beer the way it needs to be as it goes through that transportation stage to finally arrive at the account," says Skall.

Before D.C. Brau can brew an ounce of beer, the ingredients need to arrive on time from hundreds of miles away. Hancock orders his barley (to make malt) from the Midwest and hops from the Pacific Northwest. It takes days for shipments to get to D.C.

"We mainly get our barley out in the Midwest because of the plains out there," says Hancock. "It's great for growing barley, wheat, and rye; a lot of the grains used in brewing, and hops come from a moist climate like the Pacific Northwest. Hops take five days from Washington state."

(Ror more on Washington, D.C.'s growing microbrew industry, see the full story from WAMU)

Port City Brewing Company opened last year in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. Founder Bill Butcher says, "Really, nobody has enough cold space," referring to sellers. "They will end up putting a display out of 15 to 20 cases where it is not refrigerated. That doesn't make the beer go bad. It's just not going to stay as fresh as long. We deal with it by keeping inventories short and making sure nobody buys too much that they can't sell in a very short period of time."

D.C. Brau and other brewers have to coordinate the import of ingredients over long distances.

"We search over the globe for our ingredients, and quality is the first concern," he says. "Our pilsner malt comes from Germany. The hops come from England, Germany, and the Pacific Northwest." It takes six weeks for hops ordered in Heidelberg, Germany to arrive in Alexandria.

When Butcher opened last February, he ordered what he thought would be a three-month supply of packaging, bottles, labels, and six-pack carriers, among other items. He used them up in two weeks, causing an unexpected logistical dilemma difficult for a small business to overcome, especially since there were no other microbreweries around.

"It wasn't like we could call our neighbor up and borrow some supplies," he says.

Butcher was motivated to found a brewery for the same reasons someone may only eat vegetables sold at a local farmer's market.

"It was about four years ago when we realized that we buy all of our groceries from local producers, our meat from local farmers, but the beer we were buying was coming from the west coast," he says.

Butcher's brewery lost power during the severe storm that hit the D.C. area on June 29. More than 2 million people were without electricity following the storm. Fortunately, Butcher was able to save 13,000 gallons of beer he had on the premises, thanks to a generator he snagged for the brewery. He did, however, cancel Fourth of July-related beer tastings.

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Transportation Nation

The Port of Houston Through the Voices of Workers

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Father and son sailors wave to each other from their ships at the Port of Houston. (Photo by veteran Houston Ship Channel pilot Lou Vest)

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF) The Port of Houston will turn 100 years old in 2014 and as part of the observance, a local arts organization is recording oral histories of longtime port workers, everyone from executives to deck hands, in an effort to tell the stories of the individual people behind one of Houston's biggest industries.

Houston Arts Alliance Folklife Director Pat Jasper is working to record 100 interviews for the centennial. She says she was drawn to the work because she wanted to explore how people develop their identities around their occupation.

With the help of a grant from the Library of Congress, Jasper launched the "Working the Port" project, with the goal of capturing the voices of the men and women who work in the diverse businesses that support the shipping industry. She says she also wants to create a better understanding of the port's role in the city's development.

"It's really amazing to think about the scale of the work they are doing, the size of those docks, the heft of those lines they are responsible for," she said.

The Port of Houston is one of the busiest ports in the world. The sprawling 25-mile complex along the Houston Ship Channel contributes billions to the local economy but Jasper says it's not really part of the everyday lives of most Houstonians. For one, much of the port's operations are tucked away on Houston's East End, a working-class neighborhood east of downtown that's away from the other major centers of the city. They've also tightened up security since 9-11. That means there aren't many viewing areas where the public can see what goes on at the port.

Boatmen at the Port of Houston. (Photo by Lou Vest)

One of the people she talked to is Steve Bennett. He's a boatman, and his job is to help tie up the big ships. He talked about what it was like when he was first hired and learning from the older guys.

"When I joined the union what they did: they said, 'Okay, when you come to a union meeting, bring you a big Coke and a bag of popcorn, sit back in the back and just shut up. We don't want to hear anything from you.' So you know that kind of opened your eyes, what's going on here. But they treated you good."

Another person Jasper spoke with is Lou Vest. He's been a ship pilot since the 1980's. There's a lot of competition to become a pilot and Vest was interviewed about how he learned he'd gotten the coveted job.

"In the maritime industry being a pilot is like being invited to be in the major leagues, and it's like being invited to play with the St. Louis Cardinals. I was very pleased."

Vest is also a photographer, and has used his access to the port to capture vibrant images that are currently on display in the Houston Arts Alliance's gallery. As for Jasper's project, her interviews will be housed at the Library of Congress once they're complete. Several Houston organizations have also also expressed interest in preserving the voices of the port for future generations.

Listen to some of the voices here, in the audio version of this story at KUHF.

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Transportation Nation

New York Officials Await Greenlight for Project to Allow for Bigger Ships

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Bayonne Bridge (chrastoslalu/flickr)

(New York, NY -- Janet Babin, WNYC) Port Authority officials are waiting to find out whether the federal government will allow a project involving the Bayonne Bridge to move through a faster permit process.

The bridge, which links New Jersey and Staten Island, is inextricably bound to the future success of the New York Harbor.

Upgrades to the Panama Canal means bigger ships will make their way through the channel and up the East Coast by 2014. But these mega container ships won’t fit under the Bayonne Bridge, which means they can’t enter New York harbor.

The Port Authority is spending $1 billion to lift the roadway, so the ships can fit underneath. But there’s a time crunch. The bridge won’t be completed until two years after the Panama Canal is widened.

Without the bigger cargo ships, the port industry is a risk of losing business to other regional harbors.

Faster federal permitting and reviews could shave up to six months off the project’s timeline. “Every day that a project like this is delayed results in additional accruals of financial costs, and every day and week and month that we can eliminate saves the project and the region money,” Port Authority Director Patrick Foye said.

President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order on Permitting and Federal Review last month. It was an idea he introduced during his State of the Union Address.

“We were first in the nation to take advantage of the process,” Foye said.

This will allow the Port Authority and other state agencies to designate projects of regional and national significance. Those projects, if approved by federal regulators, will be able to undergo concurrent as opposed to sequential reviews that would normally take months to complete. For example, the Order would allow approved projects to combine the process of an environmental review with an environmental impact statement.

Critics contend the fast-track review process fails to allow adequate time to assess the environmental or community impact a project can have.

Foye said the Port Authority will likely hear whether the Bayonne Bridge has been approved for the fast-track review process, within the next two months. He said construction on the Bridge is expected to begin early next year.

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Customs Inspection Changes Could Hurt Red Hook Shipping

Friday, January 20, 2012

Area politicians warn that changes in customs inspections could decimate the shipping industry in Red Hook.


The Takeaway

Egypt's Labor Unions Galvanize Protest Movement, Spark Economic Fears

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In a move that futher galvanized Egypt's protesters, thousands of Egyptian labors union members held sit-ins and strikes on Wednesday that were expected to continue through the week. Union members have not called for President Hosni Mubarak to step down, instead airing their frustration with low wages and the Egyptian government in general.



Niche Market | New York Nautical

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market will take a peek inside a different specialty store and showcase the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity.

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The Takeaway

Laying tracks to the future of cargo shipping

Monday, April 20, 2009

Last week, President Obama announced an ambitious goal to build a high-speed passenger rail line in ten regions across the country. But even if President Obama’s plans for passenger rail materialize, it won’t necessarily help the entire rail system. America's freight, the cargo that moves goods across the country by rail, is in big trouble. To look at the state of the rails, The Takeaway talks with Rick Karr, a correspondent for Blueprint America. His report on the nation’s ailing freight-rail system will air on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer tonight.

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