J.B. Hunt, BNSF seek to shift millions of loads from highway to rail

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J.B. Hunt Transport Services, one of the largest supply chain solutions providers in North America, and BNSF Railway, North America’s largest intermodal rail provider, Tuesday announced the launch of Quantum, an ntermodal service that accommodates the service-sensitive highway freight needs of customer supply chains.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services (CCJ Top 250, No. 3) and intermodal rail provider Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway jointly rolled out Tuesday an intermodal service to transport service-sensitive highway freight via rail, potentially removing millions of loads from the highway. 

Quantum – the revival of a name used by the two companies in a partnership that dates back to the late 1980s – 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. Their workflow is integrated at every step of the intermodal shipping process: from planning to execution and oversight to exception management.

J.B. Hunt President of Intermodal Darren Field said Quantum allows customers with service-sensitive freight to benefit from the cost savings of intermodal reduce their carbon footprint. Converting over-the-road highway freight to rail intermodal, the companies claim, is the most widely available ground-based transportation solution for cutting carbon emissions, reducing a shipment’s carbon footprint by an average of 60% compared to over-the-road truck transportation.

“Our joint service and capacity are unmatched," he added. "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.”

[Related: Knight-Swift signs intermodal truckload deal with new rail giant]

As a premium intermodal service, Quantum pricing will vary based on need, but the companies said customers can anticipate costs to range between traditional intermodal service and over-the-road service. Based on analysis of J.B. Hunt 360° transactions and annual bid activity, J.B. Hunt estimates that 7 to 11 million loads of freight support conversion from over-the-road truck service to intermodal service.

Quantum customers can anticipate up to 95% on-time delivery service approximately a day faster than traditional intermodal service, the companies said, adding that 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.

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The new partnership creates even deeper ties between the two companies that have been entangled in some regard for more nearly 40 years. In 2022, the two launched a joint initiative to improve capacity in the intermodal marketplace while also meeting the expanding customer needs. 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 also 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. J.B. Hunt in September agreed to acquire the brokerage operations of BNSF Logistics

“We are excited to bring this innovative vision to life by creating Quantum with J.B. Hunt,” said Tom Williams, group vice president of consumer products at BNSF. “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.”

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.

“Quantum provides the exceptional intermodal service needed to consistently meet the demands of the most complex freight,” said Spencer Frazier, executive vice president of marketing and sales at J.B. Hunt. “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.”