U.S. East Coast ports compete to become intermodal gateways


APM Terminals Elizabeth is marketing a new service that claims faster ship-to-rail transfers, with multiple daily train departures inland.

Key to the operation is a direct-to-rail landing zone at the terminal for rapid container transfer to an 18-track rail operation to build double-stack trains that feed the networks of CSX, Norfolk Southern and CN, the three Class I rail carriers that offer transit times to the Midwest and Canada of between two and four days.

According to APM Terminals, the rapid transfer of boxes from ship to rail translates into a 12-hour dwell time for import rail cargo, while four train departures a day inland will translate into short transit times.

The terminal recently completed a $200 million infrastructure investment that involved the installation of new ship-to-shore cranes and truck gates, as well as modernized IT systems.

And detention times for imported boxes have been reduced by 75%, according to the terminal operator.

One of the factors contributing to the attractiveness of the new intermodal service is that Port Elizabeth is the first port of call on the U.S. East Coast for multi-vessel services, and forwarders have welcomed the new offering.

“Anything a port does to improve transit or reliability is a big plus,” said Craig Grossgart, global SVP oceans at Seko Logistics.

“It’s a great idea. It’s the kind of service that’s needed,” added Bob Imbriani, EVP international at Team Worldwide, who expects the new service to live up to its promise, given the problems that have plagued U.S. imports.

“One of the questions we have is how can they control all the participants in the process?” he asked. “We’ve had major problems with rail coming out of East Coast ports.”

Team plans a test shipment to test the reliability of the service, according to Imbriani, who adds that shippers and importers will clamor for it if it meets expectations.

Grossgart believes the service will be well received. Expedited intermodal offerings through the West Coast’s main gateway, with fast transloads and fast rail runs inland (BNSF achieved 104-hour transit to Chicago) have proven extremely popular, he noted.

While APM Terminals’ venture is especially attractive in the current landscape of clogged terminals and rail yards, the Port of Baltimore is embarking on a longer-term play to position itself as a gateway for inland intermodal traffic.

Work recently began on a $466 million rail tunnel expansion, scheduled for completion in two years. This has been the result of seven years of negotiations, mainly over financing, which has finally been secured. It is a $125 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuild America’s Infrastructure program, $147 million from the state of Maryland and $91 million from CSX, which owns the tunnel and rail lines.

The goal is to enable the tunnel to support double-stack trains, which means 160,000 more containers per year will be able to pass through.

Baltimore is the 14th largest U.S. port and has recorded compound annual growth of 8.3% in recent years, but the inability to run double-stack trains has been an obstacle to its intermodal ambitions.

Maritime service makes up the other part of the equation, Imbriani noted.

“Baltimore looks like a good service, but it depends on which ships from which origins call there,” he said. “Mobile has very good rail connections, but not a huge number of departures.”

Source The Loadstar

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