Georgia ports seek to expand rail service as cargo traffic keeps risingThe Chatham Intermodal Transfer Facility, at the Savannah port, has 15,000 feet of working tracks and 7,500 feet of storage tracks in a facility that covers 160 acres. Credit: GPA/Stephen B. Morton
By David Pendered
Most days at the port of Savannah, about 20 trains arrive to drop a load of goods for export, reload with imports, and depart a few hours later. The state plans to grow this business with a network of transport hubs in five surrounding states.
“The concept we’ll develop over the next couple of years will build on what I consider to be the largest inland intermodal complex in the entire eastern third of the United States, and that’s Atlanta, Ga.,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
The port’s existing rail network is a substantial platform on which to start the expansion.
Atlanta and Savannah are linked by three trains that make a round trip seven days a week. CSX operates two trains, one based at Hulsey Yard, near Inman Park, and one at Fairburn; Norfolk Southern operates one train, from a yard in Austell, according to GPA’s marketing materials.
In addition, Savannah is linked by rail service to 10 cities that make round trips most days of the week. The cities, listed in alphabetical order, and the railroads that service them are:
- Birmingham – CSX and Norfolk Southern;
- Charlotte – CSX and Norfolk Southern;
- Chicago – CSX and Norfolk Southern;
- Cincinnati – CSX and Norfolk Southern;
- Dallas – Norfolk Southern;
- Jacksonville – CSX;
- Louisville – CSX and Norfolk Southern;
- Memphis – CSX and Norfolk Southern;
- Nashville – CSX;
- Winter Haven (Tampa/Orlando) – CSX.
GPA intends to scale this system in Georgia as well as five states surrounding Georgia. The expansion plan is named Network Georgia.
The first of these inland ports is being established in Crisp County, on a 40-acre site with an option to expand on 1,200 adjacent acres in the Crisp County Industrial Park. The idea is for trucks to haul goods to the inland port. From there, goods will be loaded on a train and transported the remaining 200 miles to a state port in Brunswick or Savannah. Agriculture products are expected to make up most of the materials – wood products, cotton, and peanuts.
“Our vision, flash forward a decade, is to have Savannah served by I-16 and I-95, and have mainline railroad hubbing, with focus in Atlanta,” Foltz said. “You would have more, and better, access to a rail solution to improve the economy of doing business in those regions, and lowering pressure on our roadways.”
Truck traffic related to the Savannah port has become such an issue that Gov. Nathan Deal has announced plans to beef up safety enforcement patrols on I-16 and in metro Atlanta. The state has created 60 new positions in commercial vehicle enforcement, and they will join an agency that now has 234 officers. Additional officers also will be stationed along I-85, in Troop County.
The $10 million cost of increased enforcement will be shared equally by GPA and the state Department of Public Safety.
Georgia’s ports are experiencing record growth.
The increase initially was chalked up to the closure of California ports over the past winter, prompting shippers to reroute freight to the east coast. However, the growth has persisted.
Every month this year, the Savannah port has set new records for the amount of cargo handled. The state port in Brunswick also is notching increases.
At the June 22 meeting of the board that oversees the Georgia Ports Authority, Foltz reported the state’s ports recorded increases of 16.4 percent in 20-foot equivalent containers, and 9.6 percent in freight. The rates compare May 2015 with May 2014.
At the port of Brunswick, the East River Terminal recorded a 44.2 percent increase in commodities, also for the May comparison. The nearby Colonel’s Island Terminal recorded a 40.2 percent increase, largely due to growth in soybean meal.
“Superior service and unmatched connectivity to inland markets are driving growth at Georgia’s deepwater ports,” GPA Chairman James Walters said in a statement. “Our ability to handle expanding cargo volumes – without congestion delays – has set GPA apart in support of farming, retail and manufacturing customers.”