J.B. Hunt, BNSF Launch New Intermodal Service

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor, Railway Age
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Supply chain solution provider J.B. Hunt and BNSF Railway on Nov. 7 announced the launch of Quantum, an intermodal service that accommodates the “service-sensitive” highway freight needs of customer supply chains.

Ed. Note: While this story is a bit afield of what RT&S normally covers, I believe it is important enough to get the widest possible distribution. Major changes in service design, particularly in rail intermodal, are relatively rare. However, I believe Railway Age’s Senior Editor Carolina Worrell’s story on the new Quantum service offered by BNSF and J.B. Hunt is worthy of your attention. The partnership between these two companies is truly historic, going back to that office car handshake deal in 1989 between then Santa Fe President Mike Haverty and J.B. Hunt to start Trailer-On-Flat-Car (TOFC) service also called Quantum. DCL

According to the companies, Quantum provides “the consistency, agility and speed needed to transport service-sensitive highway freight using rail.” Solutions are customized specifically to each customer’s needs, considering service expectations, transit requirements and operational procedures. The Quantum team is comprised of both J.B. Hunt and BNSF operators housed together at a new Intermodal Innovation Center at BNSF headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. The workflow, the companies say, is integrated at every step of the intermodal shipping process—from planning to execution and oversight to exception management.

“Quantum allows customers with service-sensitive freight to benefit from the cost savings of intermodal, while reducing their carbon footprint and maintaining the level of service and consistency needed in their supply chains,” said J.B. Hunt President of Intermodal Darren Field. “Our joint service and capacity are unmatched. When combined with J.B. Hunt’s broad range of flexible solutions, there’s no provider in the industry who can match Quantum’s ability to move your most important freight.”

According to the companies, Quantum customers can anticipate up to 95% on-time delivery service approximately a day faster than traditional intermodal service. Planning starts with aligning forecasts for dray, container and rail capacity with customer needs. Priority drayage and rail movement are incorporated to provide faster, more consistent transits.

“The Quantum team provides 24/7 oversight of every Quantum load and can quickly detect and resolve issues before they impact final delivery. Service and technology integration allow the Quantum team to identify variability and recommend an alternate solution among standard intermodal, expedited intermodal and over-the-road,” the companies said.

Quantum is a premium intermodal service, and pricing will vary based on need. Customers can anticipate cost to range between that of traditional intermodal service and over-the-road service. Based on analysis of J.B. Hunt 360°® transactions and annual bid activity, J.B. Hunt says it estimates that as many as 7 to 11 million loads of freight support conversion from over-the-road truck service to intermodal service. According to the companies, converting over-the-road highway freight to rail intermodal is the most widely available ground transportation solution for cutting carbon emissions, reducing a shipment’s carbon footprint by an average of 60% compared to over-the-road truck transportation.

“We are excited to bring this innovative vision to life by creating Quantum with J.B. Hunt,” said BNSF Group Vice President of Consumer Products Tom Williams. “Built on a long-standing strategic partnership foundation and decades of intermodal capacity expansion investments, Quantum will provide a faster and more consistent intermodal solution to customers. Our new Intermodal Innovation Center will foster continued collaboration between our companies to continue evolving with our customers’ supply chain needs and create the intermodal solution of the future.”

“Quantum provides the exceptional intermodal service needed to consistently meet the demands of the most complex freight,” said J.B. Hunt Executive Vice President of Marketing and Sales. “Its solutions are flexible to address supply chain challenges in real time. Customers have access to multiple modes for unexpected concerns such as potential delays, volume surges or production issues.”

The name of the new intermodal service, which was announced during a keynote at the FreightWaves F3: Future of Freight Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a nod to J.B. Hunt and BNSF’s (then Santa Fe Railway) “historic effort to bring rail and trucking together into a streamlined service.” In September, J.B. Hunt purchased the brokerage operations of BNSF Logistics, an affiliate of BNSF Railway Company.

In 1989, the J.B. Hunt and BNSF launched the industry’s first modern intermodal transportation solution—also named Quantum—with 150 trailers. The growth, the companies say, was “explosive,” leading to more innovations: double stacking containers, creating company-owned chassis and adding onsite terminals and express gates.

Recent efforts by J.B. Hunt and BNSF to improve intermodal service efficiency helped lay the groundwork for Quantum. In 2022, the two launched a joint initiative to improve capacity in the intermodal marketplace while also meeting the expanding needs of customers. This included plans from J.B. Hunt to grow intermodal capacity to as many as 150,000 containers in the next few years. BNSF committed to creating additional capacity at existing intermodal facilities in the near term and their intention to build a new state-of-the-art master planned rail facility in Southern California, the Barstow International Gateway, serving the Southern California ports. Together, the companies say their efforts “helped address container velocity and service efficiency during a volatile market.”

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