Boosting Throughput is the Name of the Game as Ports Compete for Intermodal Cargoes.


By Tom Peters 02-17-2018 01:16:00

(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2017 edition.)

A supply chain is only as good as the sum of its parts. If there is a breakdown anywhere in the system, then the chain is flawed and efficiency suffers.“ Efficiency is the prime rationale for intermodal transport, but accessibility is a further reason for using two or more modes of transport,” writes Barry Prentice, Director of the Transport Institute at the University of Manitoba, in The Importance of Intermodal Connectivity and Bottleneck Elimination. “Most exports require trucks or railcars for pickup and delivery at some point in the supply chain.”

The Intermodal Association of North America’s (IANA) “Intermodal Market Trends and Statistics” report stated that total intermodal volumes gained 4.5 percent in the second quarter of this year, the strongest growth in nearly three years. International trade was the leading sector, up 5.6 percent or 2.3 million containers. Domestic containers and trailer volumes increased 3.2 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

“Growth in Q2 indicates that economic conditions continue to improve for all segments of the intermodal market,” said Joni Casey, IANA’s President and CEO. “Year-to-date performance is a healthy 3.3 percent.” IANA has over 1,000 members including railroads, ocean carriers, ports, intermodal truckers, over-the-road carriers, intermodal marketing and logistics companies and suppliers to the industry.

ports & terminals

The vital roles played by ports, both marine and inland, and terminal operators are critical to an efficient supply chain. These facilities know their importance in the system and continue to power ahead with massive infrastructure investments. Virginia, Charleston and Montreal are examples of ports working with the public and private sectors to keep intermodal cargoes moving at an accelerated pace.

The Port of Virginia has launched several initiatives in recent months to boost rail and truck efficiencies. CSX, for example, is now running double-stack trains from Virginia on the railroad’s new National Gateway route to Midwest markets since completing the last of 61 clearance projects. The route connects the port with cargo owners in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati and ties into CSX’s existing double-stack routes into Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis.

Last year the port announced a $670-million investment in expansion projects at the Virginia International Gateway (VIG) and Norfolk International Terminals (NIT). Combined, these capacity expansions will boost the port’s annual throughput by 40 percent or one million containers. Completion is expected in 2019.

On the trucking side, Virginia has opened its North Gate, a $42-million, 26-lane, technology-driven gate complex that speeds the flow of truck-borne cargo to and from NIT. The expanded North Gate is key to improving service deliveries to motor carriers and cargo owners, notes John F. Reinhart, CEO and Executive Director of the Virginia Port Authority.

It’s also critical to the success of a larger expansion project as the port will receive a federal Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grant of $1.55 million to help offset costs for the development and phased implementation of a reservation system at its terminals.

“A reservation system for motor carriers is going to be absolutely necessary to creating efficiency at the gate and in the stack yards and to improving service,” says Reinhart. “It will allow us to meter the flow of traffic in and out of our terminals, level out the ‘rush hours’ and give us more control of the flow of cargo.”

Farther down the Atlantic seaboard, the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) opened Inland Port Greer four years ago to improve the efficiency of international container movements between the Port of Charleston, upstate and neighboring states. In partnership with Norfolk Southern, the facility has proven so successful that the port has begun construction of a second inland facility in Dillon, South Carolina. Expected to open during the first quarter of next year, the Dillon facility will handle approximately 45,000 containers annually via an existing CSX mainline that provides overnight access from Charleston.

In addition, the state is funding construction of a dual-served rail facility, the Navy Base Intermodal Facility. Palmetto Railways, a division of the South Carolina Department of Commerce, has taken on the project. The facility’s location takes advantage of the region’s transportation infrastructure, including major roadways and the South Carolina ports. It also provides equal connectivity to the area for both of the state’s Class 1 rail carriers, CSX and Norfolk Southern. Completion is expected by the end of 2018.

In fiscal 2017 Charleston implemented an Advanced Gate System (AGS) at its terminals. AGS is designed to deliver faster truck-turn times, more robust and transparent information flow, improved mission flexibility and enhanced management tools and reports.

In Montreal the big news is a plan to add 20,000 square feet to the port’s intermodal yard, says Director of Business Intelligence & Innovation Daniel Olivier. Olivier says the port is in a “unique position” in that it operates its own railway. It has 100 kilometers of rail track on its land, four locomotives and 117,000 square feet of rail capacity.

Montreal handles approximately 1.5 million TEUs a year and is served by two Class 1 railroads, Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP), which deliver export trains to the port. The port changes the locomotives, breaks down the trains and distributes the rail cars and containers to their respective terminals – and vice-versa on imports, says Olivier. Controlling the intermodal container flow helps the port work toward its target dwell time for containers of two days or less.

Montreal moves about 45 percent of its intermodal cargo by rail and 55 percent by truck. To improve the truck side, the port introduced its innovative Web-based Trucking PORTal app, which provides truckers and dispatchers with real-time traffic and wait times at the port’s four international container terminals. “We break down the whole process for truckers,” explains Olivier, “and by doing so we are able to pinpoint where the bottlenecks are. We refresh this information every three minutes.”

sunshine state

Late last year the Port of Jacksonville (JAXPORT) opened an Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) at Dames Point to provide more efficient service to the tenants of the Blount Island and Dames Point terminals. CSX serves the ICTF.

Executive Vice President & Chief Commercial Officer Roy Schleicher says the port has also installed three new 100-gauge cranes at Dames Point that can reach 22 containers across. In addition to a number of navigational improvements, the Florida Department of Transportation has carried out highway and ramp work that will improve access to both the Blount Island and Dames Point terminals by providing dedicated, not-for-public-use trucking lanes.

JAXPORT is one of the leading container ports in Florida and the second leading ro/ro port in the country, handling nearly 700,000 automobiles annually. The port is served by three railroads – CSX, Norfolk Southern and Florida East Coast (FEC).

Farther south in Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale), Crowley Liner Services is working closely with FEC to transport its intermodal moves from South Florida north to Jacksonville and beyond.

Crowley is the largest terminal operator at the port, and FEC owns and operates a 43-acre Intermodal Container Transfer Facility adjacent to the port with seven fully automated gates for trucks to quickly enter and exit the railyard.

Director of Business Development Jim Pyburn says Port Everglades is working closely with FEC to enhance potential opportunities to grow its perishables market, which is already number one in Florida and number six in the U.S. FEC was acquired earlier this year by Grupo México (GMXT), the most competitive transportation company in México. Port Everglades plans to utilize this relationship to its advantage by working with FEC to further develop its intermodal business.

Port Everglades recently received Broward County’s approval to begin a $437.5 million expansion project to add new berths for larger cargo ships and install crane rail infrastructure for new, super post-Panamax cranes. Additional dock space for cargo ships is needed, especially as Port Everglades has become Florida’s leader for containerized cargo volumes.

The Southport Turning Notch Expansion (STNE) project will lengthen the existing deep water turnaround area for vessels from approximately 900 feet to 2,400 feet, which will allow for up to five new cargo berths. The existing gantry crane rail network will be extended to the full length of the extended Turning Notch berth to utilize the existing cranes.

“The Southport Turning Notch Expansion was identified as a critical project in our 2006 Master/Vision Plan,” says Steve Cernak, Chief Executive & Port Director and the newly elected Chairman of both the American Association of Port Authorities and the Florida Ports Council. “We will now be able to meet the demands of our current customers and work with them to grow their businesses in addition to providing the infrastructure necessary to attract new customers.”  MarEx

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.