Ports & Terminals

FHA Webinar Highlights Inland Port Trends And Challenges

A “Talking Freight” webinar sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) July 15 focused on “Examining the Growth of Inland Ports.”

For the purpose of the webinar, FHA defined inland ports as intermodal rail yards connected by rail to coastal marine ports, although some ports along the inland waterway system were mentioned.

Frank Harder, principal of Tioga Group, introduced the topic, speaking about lessons learned with inland ports. He talked about the value of ports reducing urban highway congestion and how they bring together marine carriers, railroad carriers, terminal operators and entrepreneurs along with governmental entities and economic developers. For ports to succeed, he said, they need viable marketing and financial plans with shared risks and active collaboration among public and private stakeholders.

Walter Kemmsies, a trade and logistics global strategist with Jones Lang LaSalle, talked about inland port trends. He discussed the importance of collaboration among ports, railroad carriers and industrial real estate developers.

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“They have come to realize they serve a very large common list of customers,” he said.

Inland ports are becoming increasingly important for several reasons, he said. One major one is that a small and aging pool of truck drivers, combined with restrictions on the hours they can drive, legally limit the industry in keeping up with demand. Meanwhile, Kemmsies said, railroads are becoming more efficient and investing in infrastructure, allowing freight to be hauled more efficiently. Shipping items via waterborne methods is also appealing to younger customers interested in greening the supply chain, he said.

However, he cautioned that not all locations are ideal for inland ports and that although the ramp-up for a new port to achieve “break-even volume” has been declining over the past decade, it can still take years for a new port to make money.

When they do, however, they can be very successful, he said. One example he pointed to was the Logistics Park in Kansas City, in existence for 12 years. It now includes 10 million square feet of industrial real estate, a mix of big retailers, distribution centers and some manufacturers, he said.

Developing An Inland Port

Cliff Pyron, chief commercial officers for the Georgia Ports Authority, and Barbara Nelson, vice president of government affairs and transportation policy for the Port of Virginia, talked about the benefits of developing an inland port from a marine perspective.

Pyron spoke about the Appalachian Regional Port in northwest Georgia, which has been in operation for the past year.

“That was a great opportunity for us up there,” he said.

If taking a container from the Garden City Ocean Terminal in Savannah to northeast Georgia, he said, a truck driver is likely to run out of legal service hours before being able to return to the Savannah port, meaning shipping by rail has been an effective solution, he said. He noted that shipping those containers by other methods takes 50,000 trucks off the highway that will not have to travel through the already congested city of Atlanta.

“Our volumes are growing considerably,” Pyron said. “As I mentioned, it’s about economic development and job creation.”

Georgia is also considering additional ports and has purchased land in Gainesville, Ga., for the potential development of Northeast Georgia Inland Port.

“We’re still doing our due diligence on that,” he said.

Additionally, Pyron thanked U.S. Maritime Administration officials for the grant that helped to purchase two new rail-mounted gantry cranes, part of the Savannah port’s Mega Rail Terminal Project.

“That’s going to give us tremendous opportunities to speed our service and increase our efficiencies,” he said.

Nelson spoke about Virginia’s six terminals, highlighting Norfolk International Terminal’s South optimization project, a three-phase project to be completed later this year that will add 46 percent capacity to the existing terminal footprint, all while the terminal has been handling record container volume.

She also discussed the importance of the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal, Va., a barging port of a little more than 160 acres that Virginia has signed a long-term lease with the city of Richmond for through 2045. Service began in 2016 with five-day-a-week barge service as well as rail service through two carriers. Since 2018, she said, the port has had 2 million feet of spec development that is either now leased or currently moving under contract.