Tampa port develops rail for ethanol, containers
Port of Tampa officials say a huge on-dock rail project to handle liquid bulk products could eventually support ambitious plans to expand the port's modest container terminal.
The port authority early this month began site preparation for the Tampa Gateway Rail, a 14,000-foot, loop rail line being built in cooperation with CSX Transportation that will allow Tampa to handle unit trains of ethanol, Port Director Richard Wainio told AmericanShipper.com.
The $12 million to $15 million project is expected to be completed by mid-2012 and give the Port of Tampa the first on-dock unit train capability in Florida, he said following remarks at an American Association of Port Authorities' workshop in town Feb. 1.
Several ports in Florida, including Tampa, have short rail spurs on their property, but they are not designed to handle full trains hauling a single commodity.
|Tampa’s REK Pier and oil tank farm. (Photo: Tampa Port Authority)|
Currently, ethanol from the Midwest arrives at different rail terminals in the center of the state and must be trucked to the Port of Tampa, where it is mixed with gasoline before distribution to retail locations. The inbound trains may include a dozen to two-dozen tank cars with ethanol, along with boxcars, intermodal, auto and other cars.
Once the project is compete, the port authority envisions dedicated ethanol trains with up to 100 cars heading straight to the port.
'So now we'll cut out that intermediate truck move completely,' Wainio said. Part of the project includes construction of pipes to offload the ethanol and transport it the final distance to the gasoline tanks.
Vessels deliver gasoline and jet fuel to Tampa from Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. Petroleum companies that operate at the Port of Tampa include Murphy Oil, Amalie Oil, Hess, Citgo, BP and Marathon. Kinder Morgan operates a pipeline that supplies Central Florida.
The new arrangement will 'remove tens of thousands of trucks off the road on an annual basis,' Wainio said. The only truck moves will be to take blended gasoline to local gas stations.
For the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, the port's petroleum product volumes were up 24 percent to 8.6 million net tons. The port authority has taken preliminary steps to demolish the REK Pier, the primary entry point for gasoline and jet fuel, and replace it with a new, expanded facility. The $35 million project will enable larger tankers to dock at the port.
The port hopes over time to develop the rail line to handle unit trains of containers, the port director said.
Increased interest by ocean container lines in on-dock rail has caused Wainio to change his mind about the need for such a capability in a regional port, he added.
Tampa continues to make strides developing its container terminal, which is managed by Ports America. However, container volume in fiscal year 2010 fell 8 percent to 44,827 TEUs, according to the port. During the fiscal year first quarter ended Dec. 31, TEUs grew 21 percent to 11,361 TEUs.
Overall tonnage fell 2 percent from the previous year primarily due to TECO Energy shifting much of its coal for power production from domestic ocean transport to rail, Wainio said in his State of the Port speech on Dec. 9.
In late January, Zim launched a direct weekly container service between Mexico and Tampa. The Mexico Tampa Express uses two chartered vessels of 550 and 700 TEUs to connect the ports of Veracruz and Altamira with Tampa and Zim's Caribbean hub in Jamaica. Two months prior, Zim merged a Gulf Coast and South American service into a butterfly loop connecting Tampa with Brazil and Venezuela.
January also marked the completion of the container terminal's next phase, which extended the rails for its three container gantry cranes and lengthened the berth from 2,100 to 2,800 feet.
Last March, the port expanded the terminal's paved storage area from 25 to 40 acres and installed an additional 52 outlets for refrigerated containers.
Tampa and Ports America plan to quadruple the terminal to 160 acres over the next few years on adjacent land owned by the port authority. The facility will have capacity to handle more than 1 million TEUs at full build out.
State and local authorities broke ground last spring on a dedicated truck ramp and elevated connector road to connect the port to Interstate 4.
The improvements are part of the port's push to prepare for anticipated growth in container volumes from Asia and western South America with the widening of the Panama Canal in 2014.
An Executive Shippers' Council of more than 150 exporting and importing firms in Central Florida is designed to demonstrate market interest to container lines for direct vessel calls and expansion of the container terminal. The companies collectively control about 225,000 TEUs in cargo bookings per year.
Several months ago, port officials launched a joint marketing initiative with the ports of Houston and Mobile, Ala., called the 'Gulf Coast Advantage.' The three ports are teaming up to encourage ocean carrier representatives in the United States and Asia to deploy a new all-water service from Asia via the Panama Canal.
'Overall the response has been favorable to our unique approach whereby the three ports jointly present a complete itinerary for three strong, complementary markets that are currently underserved, with a strong cargo profile of both exports and imports,' Wainio said in the State of the Port, according to a copy of his speech posted online.
The ports also offer attractive backhaul cargoes such as juice from Florida and resins from Texas, port officials said.
Tampa touts its regional reach to a consumer market of 8 million people within a 100 mile-radius, including along the I-4 corridor to Orlando and its tourist attractions. Central Florida represents the 10th-largest economy in the country, officials say.
In the last five years, the region has seen significant growth in distribution centers, including those serving Rooms to Go, Southern Wines & Spirits, and the Publix grocery chain.
At the other end of the Gulf is Houston, with a local market of 10 million consumers. And in the middle is Mobile, which serves a growing manufacturing base in Alabama.
'From a steamship lines' perspective, you've got a good vessel profile of cargo and commodities, small and large beneficial cargo owners. It's a real diverse mix of products,' said Wade Elliott, Tampa's senior director of marketing. He expressed confidence in finding a carrier partner at a time when the industry is starting to take delivery of so many new vessels and looking for new growth opportunities.
The three markets are distinct, with very little overlap on the edges, stressed Mark Sheppard, vice president of trade and development for the Alabama State Port Authority.
Carriers are surprised by the alliance. 'They've never seen ports come in together' trying to get business, he said.
Other ports have aligned to cooperate on issues of common interest, most notably the major West Coast ports two years ago when they perceived a potential market shift to the East Coast. But those efforts have focused more on presenting a united policy front in Washington or generally promoting the benefits of their region instead of making joint solicitations directly to port customers. ' Eric Kulisch