Long lines that delayed trucks for hours at the Seagirt Marine Terminal last month have been eliminated, as the terminal's operator has made changes to speed traffic and as truck drivers have become more familiar with procedures at the computerized truck gate.
"Today I didn't have any problem. Three weeks ago it took me damn near half a day to get in and out," said Lewis A. Ellis, a driver who brought a loaded container to Seagirt Friday afternoon and took out an empty one. "It seems to me like it's getting better."
Seagirt, a $250 million state-owned facility that opened in early September, was built in hopes of lowering the cost and increasing the
speed of moving cargo through the port. The computerized truck gate, a key part of the hopes for achieving greater efficiency, was designed to speed the movement of trucks in and out of the terminal -- or, in industry terms, to reduce truckers' turnaround time.
A month ago, the turnaround times were far from good, as drivers waited in lines six or seven trucks deep at the gate. Those lines are now gone, and drivers are getting in and out in as little as 20 minutes, a trucking company executive said.
"It's 100 percent better," said Randall F. Chell, operations manager for Ty Pruitt Trucking. "Everything seems to be moving well. It's gotten steadily better in the past two to three weeks."
A single truck can now pick up about five containers a day out of Seagirt; before, a driver could handle only about two, Mr. Chell said. That means the trucking company can get more than twice the output from the
same resources -- a truck and driver. "We can get so much more production," Mr. Chell said.
That is precisely what the huge investment in Seagirt was supposed to do -- increase the productivity of the workers and companies that depend on the port for their livelihoods.
Mr. Chell said turnaround time at Seagirt is now 1 1/2 hours at most, making it the fastest in the port.
Michael P. Angelos, general manager of the state subsidiary that oversees Seagirt's operation, said measures he has taken to improve operations have eliminated the problems. "This gate works," he said. "You're not going to see any delays here."
The entrance to Seagirt is dominated by a programmabl signboard with the capacity to direct drivers to specific lanes. The sign bears evidence to some of the changes made in response to driver complaints.
The sign now provides for a separate lane for trucks pulling empty containers, which do not have to be weighed before they are cleared for entry into the terminal. Drivers did not see why they were compelled to sit in the same lines as drivers waiting for their turn at the scales.
"That has helped eliminate some of the congestion," Mr. Angelos said.
Mr. Angelos has also had computer terminals installed at the exi gate. Under the original system, a clerk at the main gate had to process information into the computer for both entering and exiting trucks. Placing the terminals at the exit gate allows the clerk at the main gate to focus solely on trucks entering the terminals, reducing delays there. The new terminals have helped the clerks at the exit gate reduce the delays there, Mr. Angelos said.
Seagirt also has instituted a staggered lunch hour for th terminals' clerks, who belong to Local 953 of the International Longshoremen's Association. That allows the terminal gate to remain open during the lunch hour. All other state-owned terminals close their gates for an hour at noon. Mr. Angelos said Seagirt is the only marine terminal on the East Coast that keeps operating during the lunch hour.
Although the terminal technically does not open until 8 a.m., employees begin collecting information from the drivers at 7 a.m., permitting the trucks to be processed rapidly into the terminal when the gate opens.
"This terminal's working great," Mr. Angelos said. "We still have things to improve. We're going to make it better."
Not all of the problems experienced by the gate at the beginning were the fault of Seagirt, Mr. Angelos said. Part of the problem could be traced to the unfamiliarity of the truck drivers with the new system and the demands it placed on them to provide certain pieces of information to be entered into the computers.
Mr. Chell agreed that drivers and trucking companies have gotten better at providing the Seagirt clerks at the gate with the proper information. "The system as it's set up is really pretty good," he said. "It's a matter of getting the flow down. Everything seems to be moving well."
Even the drivers are coming back with better reports on the terminal. "When you hear it from them you know there's been a change," he said.
The improvements in the performance of Seagirt also were verified by John Reardon, deputy manager in Baltimore for Evergreen Marine Corp., one of two lines whose ships use Seagirt. "We haven't seen any problems in the last couple of weeks," he said.
He described the terminal's initial problems as "growing pains."
"Anything you start up, you have to get familiar with," he said.
Mr. Angelos said he also has seen improvement in the performance of the terminal's cranes. Just as the gate complex is supposed to improve truck operations, the cranes are supposed to reduce the turnaround time for ships and improve the productivity of the crews that load and unload them.
When the new dual-hoist cranes went into operation a month ago on a ship operated by Evergreen, they averaged less than 20 containers an hour, less than the productivity of most of the older cranes in the port.
Friday, the Seagirt cranes were averaging 29 containers an hour on an Evergreen ship, Mr. Angelos said. "They'll be up to 35 in two weeks," he said. "I hope to see 40."