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Port of Huntsville handles record intermodal rail volume in 2023

North Alabama inland port moved more than 27,500 rail containers last year

The Port of Huntsville handled 27,597 container rail lifts in 2023, a 24% year-over-year increase. Photo: (Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Intermodal traffic continues to expand at the Port of Huntsville in north Alabama.

The port recorded 27,597 container rail lifts at its intermodal center in 2023, a 24% year-over-year increase compared to 2022.

“The key is our customer base is really expanding,” Butch Roberts, CEO of the Port of Huntsville, told FreightWaves. “We have Mazda and Toyota right here in our community; they’re becoming big players. What we’re happy about is that the growth is diverse, it’s different folks adding to it. We’re just continuing to grow.”

The Port of Huntsville is a multimodal inland port served by air, rail and truck. The port is on 7,000 acres and comprises four operating entities: Huntsville International Airport, along with its International Intermodal Center, Jetplex Industrial Park and Huntsville International Spaceport.

The Jetplex Industrial Park houses more than 70 companies from a variety of industries, including automotive suppliers, electronics, aviation/aerospace, and warehouse or distribution centers.

Huntsville International Airport serves eight major cargo airlines, including DSV, Kerry Logistics, FedEx, UPS and Qatar Airways.

While rail lifts were up last year, cargo freight by weight was down about 18% year over year to 115 million pounds in 2023. 

“Since COVID, we’ve been down, the whole industry is changing,” Roberts said. “We’re up already for January and February. We’re exceeding last year’s numbers.”

For 2024, rail lifts at the port’s intermodal center are off to a good start. The port recorded 2,569 rail lifts in January, a 6% year-over-year increase compared to the same period in 2023.

The port’s intermodal rail terminal is served by Norfolk Southern, with dedicated stack train service to and from both East and West Coast ports.

The intermodal center is equipped with two 45-ton overhead gantry cranes and includes more than 436,000 square feet of air cargo space and distribution facilities, with 35,000 square feet of cold storage.

The port is centered among several automotive manufacturers in the southeastern U.S., including Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan, General Motors and BMW, that can be reached by truck within a few hours.

“We have fairly traditional rail-type products here, consumer products. On the export side, we have everything from beverage products, cotton, lumber, all kinds of automotive parts on the import side,” said Barbie Peek, the port’s chief business development officer. “We also see textile products, retail products, building materials — all these are supporting manufacturers in the region.”

One of the port’s goals for this year is expanding the size of the depot service at its intermodal container yard.

“We have a large cargo operation here in Huntsville. We have a 4,000-acre industrial park here,” Roberts said. “It’s all about development and industrial growth through the benefits of transportation, as an inland port located in a small community that serves as an alternative hub for operations for our customers. Our whole goal is for our customer base to make money. They wouldn’t come here if they weren’t making money.”

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]