Innovative waterway vessel touted to deliver savings for shippers while revolutionizing freight movement.
Litrico presented information about container on vessel (COV) innovations at two St. Louis Regional Freightway Industry Forums in late August. He said shippers could save between 30 percent to 40 percent over other intermodal alternatives by using patented vessels capable of carrying mass quantities of containerized freight on an all-water route connecting ports in the St. Louis region to others in the Midwest and to the lower Mississippi River — and ultimately to Asia and Europe.
The expansion of the Panama Canal opened the door to an all-water route into the Midwest. The widened canal now can accommodate vessels up to 18,000 TEUs.
An all-water route for bigger vessels to access the heartland of America from the Gulf of Mexico would come via the planned Plaquemines Port container terminal.
“Cargo flows to the lowest cost, most efficient route, so all we had to do was build the lowest cost, most efficient route,” said Sandy Sanders, executive director of the Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District (PPHTD).
PPHTD has memorandums of understanding in place with the St. Louis Regional Freightway and ports throughout the Midwest, as well as an agreement with American Patriot Holdings, the parent company of American Patriot Container Transport.
“We’re going to revolutionize onward movement of cargo to the Midwest and from the Midwest to the world, utilizing the first interstate highway, the inland waterway system,” Sanders said.
Sanders and Litrico said the goal is to develop a hub-and-spoke transportation system for container transport vessel shipments from Plaquemines, at mile 50-55 on the Mississippi River south of New Orleans, to Midwest markets, which represent 40 percent of U.S. land area and 15 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.
They view this COV approach as a way to move a critical mass of containerized product significantly faster than container on barge (COB), resulting in lower landed transportation costs.
The American Patriot vessels that would be used to provide the COV service have patented features enabling high cargo payload and unprecedented upriver speeds. Litrico said American Patriot’s liner vessel will carry up to 2,500 containers at speeds of 13 miles per hour with virtually no wake, making round trips from Plaquemines to the St. Louis region possible in 10 days.
In contrast, COB transport, which moves at between 4 to 5 miles per hour on upriver trips, takes from 20 to 24 days.
American Patriot’s hybrid vessels would be a little smaller than current vessels and more nimble so that in addition to making direct trips between the Port of Plaquemines and Midwest ports along the Mississippi, they would connect with other ports on the tributary rivers above the locks and dams, picking up freight and supporting the hub-and-spoke system, according to Litrico.
Final engineering and designs are under way for the American Patriot vessels, which recently completed model testing in Germany.
Sanders said the new multimodal gateway terminal being built at the Port of Plaquemines will be capable of servicing 20,000-plus-TEU ships and accommodating eight unit trains right up to the dock.
The new terminal will feature modern terminal technology to expedite container throughput and be served by 15 150-gauge cranes, Sanders said.
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said, “What excites me about the APH model is that it allows these farmers to engage in the international marketplace without having to have huge economies of scale.
“A supply chain is more viable if you can have a robust inbound movement and a robust outbound movement. It’s encouraging that there’s so much interest from non-ag industries in this alternative,” Steenhoek said.
Sanders and Litrico said the next step to advance the COV effort is lining up cargo for the return trips, the trips back down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.