Sunday, September 7, 2014

UPS Chicago Area Consolidation Hub (CACH)

Update: an article in the Dec. 27, 2014, Chicago Tribune reported that UPS and Fed Ex did better for Xmas in 2014 than they did for 2013. Part of it was better weather. But part of it was that they planned better for the shipping crunch. UPS was expected to deliver a record 34 million packages on Monday, their busiest day. This is up from 31 million the previous year. It hired 94,000 seasonal workers compared to 55,000 in 2013 to handle the demand.

Update: A Trains article on the Willow Springs Yard has a good description of the CACH operations. Search for "Across the street". It indicates the threshold for rubber wheels vs. steel wheels is 400 miles.

General Motors opened a plant in Willow Springs, IL, next to the Sante Fe Railroad tracks in 1953 and the Buick Division produced jet engines for the Korean War before turning it into metal fabricating and body stamping plant in 1955. The plant employed 2,900 people when GM decided to close it in 1986. (Tribune86) [More details on the Buick Plant] UPS took ownership of the 1.8 million-square-foot facility on Jan 1, 1990, for $16.25 million. (Tribune89) A new exit was added to the I-294 toll road to support the UPS facility. And Santa Fe rebuilt its facilities adjacent to the plant to be an intermodal yard, including a direct truck connection between the yard and the UPS facility. UPS opened its CACH in 1995. It is the largest land transport distribution center in the US and the largest package sorting facility in the world. It receives trailers from the East and West coasts and points in between, sorts the packages, and then sends trailers to destinations throughout the US and Canada.

From 126 (or 174, sources vary) inbound doors, packages find their way through 65 miles of conveyor belts with automated push paddles sorting the packages, and arrive within 15-minutes to one of 1000 (or 1058, sources vary) outbound loading bays. It handles about 1.3-1.5 million parcels per day, which is 10% of the UPS daily ground volume. During Nov. and Dec., the parcel count can exceed 2 million/day. The facility is designed to handle 3.1 million packages/day. (PR) Packages bound for UPS distribution facilities located more than 400 miles away are likely to be loaded on a train. That accounts for about 40% of the traffic. One source claims 11,000 people work at the facility. Another source claims the facility employs 5,700 people. Wikipedia states 8,000 people. Note that the 2,900 GM jobs would have been full-time jobs with good benefits. I understand that many of the UPS jobs are part-time with no benefits.

The reason why there are so many outbound doors as opposed to inbound doors is because an inbound trailer needs to be parked at a door only as long as it takes to offload its cargo. An outbound trailer needs to remain parked at a door for hours until either it is filled up or the scheduled "pull" time arrives in order to meet train cutoff times. In the later case, a partially filled trailer will be sent to its destination.

The facility is so large that an aerial photo is more informative than any land-based photo. I rotated the image about 30 degrees counter-clockwise so that it fits better on a web page. You can see the 5 outbound docks at each end of the building. The inbound docks are at the sides of the building's sorting core. The left (westish) side is employee parking. The black dots at the northish end of the inbound area are the truck tractors. Note the white cabbed "scooter" tractors that would be used to take trailers next door to the BNSF TOCF yard. The even smaller black dots at the southish end of the inbound area are the dollies they use to haul multiple trailers.

According to a Progressive Rail article, UPS decided to switch from using trailers to containers in 2011. Ken Buenker, vice president of UPS' corporate transportation services, who is responsible for rail transport company-wide, said "A double-stack train in essence replaces the need for another train." But container cars in my pictures of BNSF's Willow Springs Intermodal Yard was a small fraction of the total number of cars I saw. Then I analyzed a satellite view. It is easy to tell if an empty car is for trailers or containers, but I had a hard time figuring out what the loaded cars were carrying. So I wonder if something changed Ken's mind, and they have decided to go back to using mostly trailers.

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