Port of Savannah investing millions to improve rail service

Cost to shippers using new service will be $300-400 less for each container moved.

May 30, 2019

5 Min Read
Georgia Port Authority

The St. Louis (Mo.) Regional Freightway and the Port of Savannah, Ga., are forging a partnership to create a new connection between the St. Louis region and the largest single-terminal container facility in the Western Hemisphere.

In response to record movement of 4.3 million 20 ft. equivalent units (TEUs) in fiscal 2017, the Port of Savannah is investing $3 billion to increase its containerized cargo capacity from 5 million to 8 million TEUs by 2028. The investment will accelerate the efforts of the nation’s third-busiest container gateway to better support retailers and manufacturers and distribute more goods to and from the interior of the U.S. The growing Port of Savannah has identified the St. Louis region as a key import/export market to which containers can consistently be distributed at a lower cost for shippers.

An important component of the Port of Savannah’s development plan is a new $220 million rail terminal that will be the largest on-terminal rail facility in North America by 2020. The rail expansion will improve efficiency and double terminal rail lift capacity to approximately 1 million containers per year. The unit train capacity on terminal will build density into the system and enable the CSX and Norfolk Southern railways to deliver faster, more frequent rail service to Midwest markets, including St. Louis, where both rail companies already have established intermodal yards. The Class I railroads are two of the seven largest rail companies in the nation, providing a direct link between the Port of Savannah on the East Coast and the St. Louis region in America’s heartland.

John Trent, senior director of strategic operations and safety at the Georgia Ports Authority, which owns and operates the Port of Savannah, talked about the new rail service the Georgia Ports Authority aims to develop between Savannah and the St. Louis region. He said the service will be an attractive alternative to shipping by rail from the West Coast to St. Louis and cited recently completed research revealing that the cost to shippers using the new service would be $300-$400 less for each container moved, with a comparable total time in transit. Just as important, the rail service would be consistent from Savannah -- a distinct advantage over more traditional gateways, he said

“We offer a premium, lower-cost option, and in addition, we provide that consistency,” Trent said. “We believe we have a viable solution to not only support existing business in the St. Louis region but also to grow business in the St. Louis region.”

This is welcome news to Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Freightway, which hosted the Industry Forum as the final event of FreightWeekSTL 2019 in St. Louis. Lamie and other freight industry leaders from the St. Louis region have been building the relationship with the Port of Savannah over the past several months.

“I cannot overstate the potential of this new partnership and the opportunities it can create to develop stronger links between our region’s world-class freight capabilities and national and global supply chains,” Lamie said.

While in St. Louis for the Industry Forum, Trent and representatives from the regional freight industry visited the CSX intermodal yard in East St. Louis, Ill., the Norfolk Southern intermodal yard in St. Louis and other components of the region’s freight network.

Matt Freix, regional vice president for DNJ Intermodal Services, also participated in the special tour on May 22. “Competition for intermodal containerized shipping primarily focuses on three things: low-cost, efficient transportation, freight volumes and shorter transit times,” Freix noted. “The St. Louis region is able to deliver in all of those categories.”

He highlighted the St. Louis region’s ranking as the third-largest rail hub strategically located in the center of the U.S., with four intermodal yards that are in close proximity to all modes of transportation. Those modes include the nation’s third-largest inland port and most efficient inland port system as well as four interstates connected by the Interstate 270 outer-loop.

Freix also called attention to proposed improvements and enhancements at the Norfolk Southern yard, which has the available capacity to handle more containers and move them quickly to major markets using the region’s robust interstate system. Across the Mississippi River in Illinois, the CSX yard has direct access to all four interstates as well as Illinois Route 3 and is able to move trucks in and out quickly and efficiently. Both locations present shippers with an opportunity to save time and money when shipping through St. Louis, he noted.

“For DNJ Intermodal Services, our customers are taking advantage of the region’s low rail congestion and quick truck turnaround times,” Freix said. “It’s an incredible alternative to Chicago’s [Ill.] rail congestion and ongoing trucking capacity shortage, and it’s also a great alternative to Memphis [Tenn.], where there are issues with getting enough chassis on the trucking side. When combined with our intermodal connectivity and infrastructure, freight forwarders are rerouting through the St. Louis region to save both time and cost.”

Trent said he was impressed with what he saw of the region’s freight assets and pointed out a further advantage of the St. Louis area: its relative proximity to his port. St. Louis is 350 miles closer to the Port of Savannah than any other major East Coast gateway, another factor making the partnership a good fit.

“From a history standpoint, your Arch is known as the Gateway to the West,” he said of St. Louis. “I look at that really as a gateway to and from the East. We want to be your partner and formalize this and work together as a team to develop this market as a gateway to provide savings for your constituents here.”

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