American ShipperIntermodal

Port of Savannah goes after Midwest cargo with unit trains

The Georgia Ports Authority plans to expand its on-dock rail infrastructure to accommodate unit trains, which officials say will offer greater efficiency for shippers as far away as Chicago and St. Louis.

Source: Georgia Ports Authority / Stephen B. Morton

   The Georgia Ports Authority is launching a strategic rail initiative aimed at penetrating key markets in the Southeast and Midwest to drive more cargo to the Port of Savannah, Griff Lynch said Thursday in his first “State of the Port” address since taking the GPA’s helm this summer.
   He also announced that Floor & Décor, an Atlanta-based specialty retailer of hard surface flooring products with stores in a dozen states, plans to build a 1.4 million-square-foot distribution center about 10 miles from the Port of Savannah. Construction is slated to begin in November and the facility is expected to be ready for business by 2018. A second development phase will add another 1.1 million square feet of storage and shipping space.
   Savannah’s massive and efficient Garden City Terminal, along with infrastructure investment by the state, has long been a magnet for import and export distribution centers across Georgia. In fiscal year 2016, ended June 30, more than 20 logistics, retail and manufacturing companies opened or announced plans for new facilities that are expected to create 3,800 direct jobs.
   Brian Robbins, Floor & Décor’s vice president of supply chain, said in a statement that the company made its site selection based on the Port of Savannah’s capabilities, the plentiful supply of motor carrier and logistics services in the area, and assistance from the Savannah Economic Development Authority.
   Lynch noted the market is still calling for additional construction, citing a vacancy rate of just 1 percent for sites greater than 100,000 square feet.
   “Savannah is the No. 2 growth market in the nation when it comes to absorption as a percentage of building inventory. Over the past 15 years, our cargo expansion has outpaced all other major U.S. container ports,” he said, according to a summary of his remarks. “The public and private investments we are making now will ensure Savannah remains at the forefront of global commerce.”
   The port director said a series of infrastructure improvements will give GPA the opportunity to expand the arc of its intermodal target market and attract companies to ship their goods through the port via rail.
   The so-called “Mid-American Arc” will focus on growing container business from Atlanta to Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, Chicago and the Ohio Valley. 
   The port is extending its on-dock rail trackage so railroads will be able to build 10,000-foot unit trains. Larger trains will reduce the number of trains required to move goods, improving efficiency for railroads and reducing impact on local communities from noise, pollution and delays at rail crossings, according to Lynch.
   Railroads already operate 25 trains per week to and from locations in the “Mid-America Arc.”
   Key to the plan is a $128 million project that will link the Garden City Terminal’s two rail yards, improve efficiency, and grow the terminal’s rail lift capacity to approximately 1 million containers each year, Lynch said. The project is funded in part by a $44 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and is expected to be completed in four years.
   The GPA is aggressively competing for discretionary cargo in the Midwest and Ohio Valley with other regional ports such as Charleston and Norfolk, which are also heavily investing in rail as all-water ocean service between Asia and the U.S. East Coast grows following the recent opening of the expanded Panama Canal.
   The South Carolina Ports Authority earlier this week announced plans to build a second inland port near the North Carolina border that will act as a relay center, essentially moving its marine terminals closer to cargo owners.
   The Virginia Port Authority has tentative plans to expand its rail yard at the Virginia International Gateway terminal with the help of a private sector partner. Once CSX railroad has completed its double-stack clearance project on the route through Washington., D.C., it will have two railroads with providing double-stack intermodal service into the Ohio Valley.
   During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Port of Savannah moved 3.6 million TEUs, although the figure represented a 1.3 percent decline from 2015 when cargo surged due to congestion problems at West Coast ports.