By Paul Page
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Highway safety regulators are hoping new flexibility in the rules governing truckers' time behind the wheel puts to rest years of argument over the driving limitations. The regulation that takes effect in September provides more leeway in freight transport operations, the WSJ Logistics Report's Jennifer Smith writes, and could save trucking companies nearly $274 million annually over the next 10 years. Shippers may expect the savings to be passed along through lower rates, but the bigger benefit will come from having a less rigid clock on operations. That includes allowing drivers to split 10 hours in mandated off-duty time into two separate breaks and exempting some duty time that isn't spent driving from hours limitations. The Teamsters union says that provision could put fatigued drivers on the road. The main independent drivers' group supports the new rule, however, and so do groups representing the large trucking companies.
New distribution strategies retailers are undertaking to survive the coronavirus pandemic are triggering turmoil in parcel-delivery networks. FedEx Corp. has started to limit the number of items that several big stores including Kohl's Corp. can ship from certain locations, the WSJ's Paul Ziobro reports, as the carrier tries to prevent its network from being overwhelmed by sharp swings in the flow of goods. FedEx's action highlights the strains on parcel operations as consumers have rushed to e-commerce while sheltering at home. Retailers are responding by turning their stores into makeshift warehouses, scrambling the normal flow of online shipments from distribution centers to homes. FedEx compares the limits to its holiday peak-season operations. But the company and other parcel carriers may have to change their operations over the long term if retailers and consumers like the shopping and fulfillment practice and keep it going after the pandemic.
The burgeoning freight rail corridor connecting China to Europe is getting a coronavirus-driven boost in demand. Growing numbers of shippers are moving to the core element of China's Belt and Road Initiative, the WSJ's Trefor Moss reports, as rising prices and disruptions in ocean and air transport have companies turning to trains. China Railway Corp., which operates the trains in China, says it ran 976 trips in April, up 47% from last year. The trains carried the equivalent of the capacity of four of the world's largest container ships. Shenzhen-based logistics company Chinatrans International says new customers are coming in "desperate" because airfreight prices have been soaring and container shipping lines are cutting sailings. The rail services have bulked up capacity in the meantime, giving the transport initiative a new audience among clothing suppliers and auto-parts companies that could last beyond the pandemic.
The robots may be getting ready to help with social distancing in stores. Grocer Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV is accelerating development of a robotic arm because Covid-19 created an urgent need for technology to help workers clean stores and process orders. The WSJ's Catherine Stupp writes that researchers in the Netherlands are testing the technology, which could be rolled across company operations that include stores in Europe and the U.S. It's a sign of how some companies appear to be stepping up automation efforts as as they adjust to the economic pressures of the coronavirus pandemic. Ahold Delhaize's robotic arm is the latest attempt to solve the robotics logistics challenge over how to handle different goods with a wide variety of shapes and textures. The research group's artificial intelligence team is focusing on improving the robotic arm's ability to identify and hold different products like fruits without damaging them.
IN OTHER NEWS
Nearly 3 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits. (WSJ)
The Trump administration plans to expand the nation's stockpile of medical equipment to include 90 days' worth of supplies to prepare for potential viral outbreaks. (WSJ)
China's Industrial output rebounded last month, growing 3.9% from a year earlier. (WSJ)
Contract manufacturing giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing plans to build a $12 billion advanced chip factory in Arizona. (WSJ)
Delta Air Lines is retiring its 18 Boeing wide-body 777 jets by the end of the year to preserve cash. (WSJ)
Airline Virgin Atlantic is talking to banks about raising some $916 million to help it weather the coronavirus-driven drop in demand. (WSJ)
Whirlpool, Dow and Reynolds Consumer Products are collaborating to provide respirators for front-line health-care workers. (WSJ)
New York City lawmakers passed measures capping delivery fees charged by services like Grubhub and prohibiting charges for undelivered food. (WSJ)
Apple supplier Foxconn Technology Group's first-quarter net profit slumped 90% from a year ago. (WSJ)
China exempted another 79 U.S. products from import tariffs. (South China Morning Post)
Investors are flocking to funds focused on logistics facilities in Asia in anticipation of booming post-coronavirus demand for e-commerce facilities. (Nikkei Asian Review)
The U.S. Postal Service is reviewing its package delivery contracts with major private parcel companies. (Washington Post)
Taiwanese container line Yang Ming lost $27.2 million in the first quarter on a 4% drop in container volume. (Lloyd's List)
Singapore Airlines lost $212 million in the year ending March 31, the first annual loss in its 48-year history. (Straits Times)
The family of a Florida woman killed by a delivery driver dropped a lawsuit against Best Buy, J.B. Hunt Transport Services and XM Delivery. (Palm Beach Post)
Paul Page is editor of WSJ Logistics Report. Follow the WSJ Logistics Report team: @PaulPage , @jensmithWSJ and @CostasParis. Follow the WSJ Logistics Report on Twitter at @WSJLogistics.
Write to Paul Page at email@example.com