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Intermodal Summit: Port of Virginia gears up for even bigger ships

CEO Stephen Edwards says some services switching to Virginia from more congested ports

Stephen Edwards, CEO and executive director, Virginia Port Authority

This fireside chat recap is from FreightWaves’ Intermodal Summit.

FIRESIDE CHAT TOPIC: How to grapple with peak season traffic at the port

DETAILS: Many U.S. ports are struggling under the extreme import loads. Yet Virginia has largely avoided heavy congestion. How has it done that?

SPEAKERS: Stephen Edwards, CEO and executive director, Virginia Port Authority, and Henry Byers, maritime market expert, FreightWaves

BIO: Edwards directs and manages the operations of Virginia’s marine and inland terminal facilities through Virginia International Terminals LLC, the port’s private terminal operating company.


“We handled the CMA CGM Marco Polo, the largest container ship to call on the East Coast. It was a 16,000-TEU [twenty-foot equivalent] ship. It really shows the capabilities of this port. We’re very fortunate in Norfolk. We have the best harbor for that size of ship on the East Coast and we’re actually making it larger and wider. We’re dredging from 50 feet to 55 feet and widening the channel. By 2024, we’ll have completed our dredging and we’ll be capable of handling fully laden 24,000-TEU ships — the largest ships in the global trade. For us, expansion is really about the Asia-East Coast trade through the Suez Canal.”

“We’ve seen all the disruptions but we really haven’t suffered from the congestion problems some of the other gateways have. A lot of that comes down to the investments we’ve made and that we’re continuing to make going forward. We operate semi-automated container terminals. If ships come off-schedule, we’re able to re-housekeep our yards and put containers in the right location through our semi-automated stacks and keep the loads going to the truck market in rhythm. We are expecting a very busy September-October-November period. Not only because it’s peak season but also because we’re seeing a number of shipping lines and BCOs [beneficial cargo owners] deciding to use us as a gateway because other ports are seeing congestion right now.”

“On the rail side, we’ve got both railroads: Norfolk Southern and CSX. There have been problems in Chicago and Kansas City with congestion, but we have built-in surge capacity. So, if the railroad says ‘hold back for a day,’ we are able to absorb that and catch up and put it through the terminals as soon as the railroads open up. When they say ‘go’ we are able to catch up very quickly and that has really kept our dwell time here under control.”

Asia-East Coast spot rates have more than tripled year on year. (Chart: FreightWaves SONAR. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.)

F3: Future of Freight Festival


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.