A Container Freight Station refers to a facility that consolidates or de-consolidates freight before preparing such freight for the next leg of its journey. Most CFS will be located close to ports of entry such as airports, ocean container ports and major railway hubs.  In the US, a CFS is designated by its FIRMS code.  A list of CFS and their designated FIRMS codes can be found here.

Most of the time it is a warehouse where goods and products that do not fit into one container are collected, stored and wait for other goods to fill a container before they are shipped to the next destination. As such, the CFS is used with Less than Container Load (LCL) shipping where one shipment is not enough to fill a container.

Once the shipment arrives at the facility, it is consolidated and packaged into a Full Container Load (FCL) shipment, which can then be transported to the next stage. LCL is thus more cost-effective when a client does not have enough goods to fill a container and opts to share the space in a container with those of another shipper, rather than pay for a full container.

Types of Container Freight Stations

There are two types of CFS: Origin and Destination.

  1. Origin CFS – A container freight station in the country from where the goods originate. This is where freight is consolidated before the goods are shipped to the destination station.
  2. Destination CFS – A container freight station in the destination country where freight is de-consolidated before each individual shipment is sent to the rightful client.

What is a Bonded CFS Warehouse?

A bonded CFS Warehouse is a bonded facility that is used as transitory storage for imported and exported goods. Bonded means that the CFS has the authority from the Customs & Border Protection Agency to receive shipments that are under a customs bond.

The shipment may be stored at the CFS warehouse before customs clearance and since they are transported while under customs bond fees and duties may be deferred. Depending on the type of bonded CFS warehouse, the customs fees may be deferred by up to five years as long as the shipment is still in the CFS warehouse.

They are different from the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) warehouses where goods in transit may be stored for longer periods of time. CFS warehouses are critical in both ocean and air freight.

Air Freight

Before cargo is loaded onto the airplane, it needs to be stored at a warehouse at the airport. The airport could be under the management of a CFS warehouse operator or a third party. At their destination, the goods will also need to be stored in the CFS warehouse until proper documentation is furnished to the CBP, which will then release the cargo to the public. The documentation required is what was previously known as AMS Air Manifest before it was upgraded to become the ACE Air eManifest.

The Container Freight Station typically provides AMS Air services to customs brokers and importers/forwarders. After taking custody of the shipments, they control and track the status of the cargo through Freight Status Notification Messages.

For non-consolidated shipments, the air waybill number is used as the in bond control number.

For Consolidated shipments, the master air waybill and associated house airwaybills will also be required to be submitted to the CBP before the cargo is released from the CFS.

Ocean Freight

The primary use of a bonded CFS at the port of origin is to consolidate and load shipments into a container in instances of Less than Container Load (LCL) shipments. The ACE eManifest Ocean will be required of ocean carriers or their authorized agents before goods are loaded onto the vessel at the port of origin.  The reporting time frame is 24 hours before loading at the foreign port of origin.

The ACE eManifest will provide a comprehensive view of all ocean shipments, manifest data, container level or bill of lading data of consolidated or de-consolidated goods.

Once the LCL sea cargo arrives at the destination, it will be sent to a CFS warehouse, where the goods will be segregated and unloaded.

CFS Warehouse Fees

CFS Warehouse Fees vary among the different providers and hence it is important to compare and confirm how much the CFS warehouse charges particularly for ocean LCL shipments. Since freight forwarder consolidators could have different contracts with the warehouse, the CFS may charge different fees depending on the forwarder used.

The Benefits of Using a CFS Warehouse

  1. They are excellent for time-sensitive air freight shipments as they facilitate the fast direct movement of such shipments from the airport and delivery to different destinations in a few hours to a few days.
  2. They increase the efficiency of the supply chain particularly for businesses that involve regular export and import of goods that need short term storage before being de-consolidated, repackaged and prepared to be delivered to the final consignee.
  3. CFS warehouses are excellent for businesses that need dedicated consolidation services since they do not have the volumes for Full Container Loads (FCL). This results in cost savings for the business.
  4. They provide an additional layer of security reducing the risk of theft or damage as goods are transported directly from the port or airport to the secure container freight station warehouse.

CY/CY and CFS/CFS Terms on the Bill of Lading

Just like the Air Waybill, the Bill of Lading is one of the most essential documents for ocean shipments. It is typically issued by the freight agent or carrier to the shipper. It usually includes a range of details such as the Port of Destination, Port of Loading, Cargo Description, Consignee, and Shipper. It also includes other terms that include CFS/CFS and CY/CY.

CY usually refers to Container Yard and is the place for storing containers after they are unloaded from the vessel or before they are loaded on to the vessel. The Container Yard is for the most part used for Full Container Load (FCL) shipments while the CFS is typically used for Less than Container Load (LCL) freight.

  1. CY/CY – This is a Full Container Load shipment that is collected at the origin port’s container yard and is then delivered to a consignee at the destination port’s container yard. In such an instance, the carrier is responsible for the shipment from the container yard at the port of origin until it reaches the container yard at the destination port. These shipments will typically have just one Consignee and Shipper and may also be known as FCL/FCL Shipments.
  2. CFS/CFS – This is a consignment where the goods heading to a particular destination are consolidated at the container freight station. Usually involving LCL shipments at the port of origin, they will be de-consolidated at the container freight station at the destination port. These will typically have multiple consignees and shippers and may be referred to as LCL/LCL shipments.
  3. CFS/CY – This is typically a consolidation of LCL shipments at port of origin that consolidates the goods of different buyers. However, the LCL shipment will be delivered to a single consignee at the destination port’s Container Yard despite having multiple shippers.
  4. CY/CFS – Refers to when the shipment is collected from the port of origin’s Container Yard and is then delivered to the Container Freight Station at the destination port where it is de-consolidated. These shipments usually have multiple consignees and a single shipper and are also known as LCL/FCL shipments.

Note that all of these are port to port deliveries, which means that the Consignee or Shipper needs to make the arrangements for the shipment to be delivered to the Container Freight Station or the Container Yard at the port of origin. They will then have to collect the shipment from the container freight station or container yard at the destination port.

The Responsibility of the Container Freight Station

The container freight station has to ensure that the goods are secure and safe until they are either shipped or picked up. In addition to ensuring the safety of the goods, they need to ensure that the goods are sorted properly and are ready for the next stage.

At any time, the CFS may have shipments that are about to be exported, some that are awaiting pickup by the consignee and others that just arrived. As such, logistics and administration are some of the most important functions of the CFS.

Receiving services provided by the Container Freight Station Include:

  1. Preparing containers internal loading plan
  2. Moving empty containers from a container yard to a CFS
  3. Stacking and sorting containers after or before shipment
  4. Tallying
  5. Container storage
  6. Issuing shipping order and dock receipts
  7. Stuffing, marking, and sealing of containers for identification and labelling
  8. Physically moving cargo out or into the CFS

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